Becoming Crono: Startup accelerators and team relationships

Building a startup from an idea can be an exciting adventure that tests resilience, passion, and commitment. It’s about creating something entirely new and adopting the right mindset to turn it into a successful reality.

With “Becoming Crono” we’ll revisit our starting point through an honest and captivating memoir written by our CTO, Marco Maddiona

Each month, you’ll have the opportunity to witness firsthand the steps that propelled Crono into a startup with a €500,000 pre-seed investment. This will encompass the obstacles we overcame and the choices we made. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to develop software while building a business? 

If you are already on board then, enjoy our second episode of Becoming Crono!

Episode 5 – Startup accelerators and team relationships

Hi Croners, I’m Marco Maddiona, CTO & Co-Founder of Crono, welcome to the fourth episode! In case you have missed the previous ones head here to read the very start of our adventure. Now, let’s dive right into our story!

After collecting the pre-seed round, we started a revolutionary phase of our product. Users perceived the value of the technology we were developing but struggled to adopt it the way we were trying to convey.

So, we decided to survey a sample of selected customers and realised that our main problem was related to the user experience. Users could not easily identify Crono’s functionalities and adopt the workflow we had in mind for them.

This is a typical situation when building a software product with only technical and domain expertise but not UX/UI expertise.

Trying to hold on to our strengths, i.e. the ability to create value for the user through the use of data generated by their prospecting activity, we decided to entirely redesign the platform and workflow for our customers, starting from their needs.

To do this, we needed a UX-UI designer to help Marco in the process. After evaluating about ten people, we identified the one who was right for us, thanks to the advice of a friend of Crono.

We started collaborating with Vlada, a Ukrainian girl who, despite her very young age, already had strong UX/UI skills in her technical background. The collaboration initially involved 3 hours per week, while she continued her full-time job at a major international web development agency.

The design and implementation work on the new version of the platform involved the entire product team, which then began to take on a shape of its own.

Carrying out this process while there were still users on the platform was not an easy job. 

New landscapes with Startup accelerators

While we were doing this work, we were simultaneously going through the incubation paths of Startup Wise Guys and Magic Mind, both of which, in different ways, contributed strongly to shaping Crono’s identity.

The Startup Wise Guys route included in-person periods in Bilbao with workshops and mentor meetings. For Crono, it was a key moment to get in touch with other international start-ups and allowed us to consolidate our European identity.

Spoiler: unfortunately, if you are the CTO of a pre-seeded start-up, you will find that you hardly have time to participate in these moments. The work to be done is always too much and so you have to sacrifice certain activities that, although important, are not directly related to product development.

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Fortunately, being four co-founders proved to be one of our greatest strengths from the start. This allowed us to divide up our roles and be present in different places at the same time. Our CEO Lorenzo was able to participate in all the activities of the acceleration process, both physical and online, while the rest of the team only participated in those directly related to their area of expertise.

After intense weeks of work, we always found a way to organise moments of sharing between us founders, which were useful to amalgamate the knowledge learnt during the week, get everyone back on the same page and increase the overall knowledge of Chrono.

The knowledge acquired from the Startup Wise Guys coaches and mentors was paramount in bringing out Crono’s identity and structuring our internal processes. Although each of us already had a strong background related to the startup world, we were able to revisit many aspects ranging from market validation to marketing, from pitch writing/exposure to go-to-market strategy, from team organisation to the relationship between founders.

Simply put, the ability to access the knowledge of those who have already been successful in the start-up world is invaluable capital that has allowed us to accelerate many aspects of business, hard and soft skills, and more generally the complex process of creating a start-up from scratch.

One of the most intense and enjoyable moments of the Startup Wise Guys acceleration journey was undoubtedly Sprint Week. Following the methodology invented at Google by Jake Knapp (and described in The Sprint Book), we followed a week-long path that led us, methodically, from the identification of the problem most felt by our customers to the realisation of a useful prototype to validate a possible solution to it.

This initiative involved all 4 founders for a week (almost) full-time and allowed us to test on some users, quickly and effectively, some ideas that we had been kept untested and which finally proved to be fundamental in the process of redesigning the platform that was already underway.

Working together to build something great

Magic Mind‘s acceleration path provided us with a lot of value on several aspects of building a network, a fundamental step for the growth of a start-up.

First and foremost, the opportunity to get to know many other Italian startuppers, with whom relationships of collaboration and friendship have developed, has been a key factor in fuelling the spread of Crono and the growth in the number of customers. The simplicity and efficiency of the application we are developing is a plus point for us with startups/scaleups, who appreciate a lean and dynamic tool that fully embodies their nature.

Secondly, we were able to get in touch with major innovation players in Italy who provided us with support on certain strategic technological choices for our platform.

The highlight of our journey with Magic Mind was undoubtedly the Demo Day held in Milan at the IBM Studios. Seeing the Crono logo projected on the maxi screen in the conference room of one of the most important and beautiful technology venues in Italy made us realise that we were building something important.

Parallel to the acceleration paths, the development team proceeded at a fast pace to migrate the first users to the new version of the platform before the end of the summer.

Finding a common language

Considering the amount of work to be done, I had already guessed that I would not have too much time over the summer holidays. We planned a week of work together between us 4 founders in Barcelona at Lorenzo’s.

As always, the times when you can work side by side are those in which the best ideas emerge and, in addition to managing the day-to-day, you can also do a lot of work on planning and future strategy. So, for a week, we spent the days in our Spanish offices and the evenings between sangrias and paellas, grinding kilometres up and down por las calles de Barcelona.

Carrying out a huge amount of work with limited resources is inevitably a great source of stress. In addition, as CTO, I was trying to take on most of the complex issues related to the development of the new platform with the idea of allowing the rest of the team to concentrate on their assigned tasks and make rapid progress on their parts.

As you can imagine, working under stress can lead to disagreements between colleagues and the emergence of tensions. It becomes easy to reply badly to the demands of others because you’re feeling overwhelmed.

This has also happened to us, probably because while building something, there could be the feeling of having too much to handle. And this results in being too focused on the long term to notice the small progresses one achieves daily.

Specifically, it happened to me with Marco to have some moments of complication due more to the way we were relating to each other during work interactions. I believe that in the phase in which Crono was in, the Product Owner / CTO axis is the centre of the whole start-up and it is fundamental that the two figures manage to collaborate in the best possible way, finding a way to speak the same language.

Basically, they are both very complex roles, and even more so in a start-up company, since on the one hand it rains reports and requests from customers while on the other hand, one tries to solve bugs and proceed with the development of new features.

A great deal of support in the co-founder relationship was given to us by Niklaus Frey, a coach from the Startup Wise Guys route, who taught us not to underestimate the psychological aspects of creating a start-up, explaining how to relate to each other and how to handle stressful situations.

Tips for healthy team relationships

I will try to highlight those that were the most important learnings for me:

  • Giving feedback is crucial. The most important thing is the way it is given.
  • We do not all communicate in the same way, especially when you have different professional backgrounds, you have to find a “common language” when talking to another person.
  • Talking to each other is important and must be done constructively to help both sides grow and improve.
  • Maintaining regular 1-1 conversations with other people in the team is helpful to bring out and heal any points of friction.

There would be so many other things to say about this and related aspects, these are the ones that helped us to manage the relationship between co-founders and to nip some misunderstandings in the bud.

Concluding on this topic, after learning to relate to each other on work issues, the relationship with Marco took off. We can now say that we understand each other and have laid a solid foundation to continue pushing even harder than before on product development.

That’s all for now, but I’ll come back soon with a new episode covering more about our product and team journey!

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