We are more an old-school company than a start-up – interview with Paulina Walkowiak

In the interview with us (Mam Startuo) Paulina talks about how she created cux.io – a tool used for researching website users’ behaviour, which she develops with her husband, Kamil Walkowiak.

Paulina Walkowiak CEO of tool for user experience research - cux.io
Paulina Walkowiak, CEO cux.io
  1.  How do you find out if an idea for a business will succeed?

For me, it is about creating a business that answers an existing need. For us that meant before we started creating cux.io, we had talked to many people from the industry, including the designers and UX researchers, and product owners from all over the Europe, to make sure that what we planned to do made sense and will be really useful for them.

Just after CUX was finished enough to show people, we started inviting them to deploy it in their business and to try it on real, working products. Since then the tool is still being reworked all the time by working together with clients to meet their needs. It lets us react right away and also stay in touch with its market.

  1.  What should a would-be entrepreneur do before they take a decision about establishing a start-up?

For a would-be entrepreneur, I’d say consider if founding a start-up is something they actually want to do, or maybe their priority is creating a good product or develop a company. In my opinion the difference between the two is huge.

Let’s start with definition of start-up of what a start-up is. It means “something for now”; there is something essentially temporary about a start-up.

For us, we are hoping to build something that can last, something more permanent. We tend to call ourselves a small company rather than a start-up. This is because I think we are closer to this kind of “old-school” company: We don’t have investors, we are learn about the business ourselves and make our own mistakes; we take all the responsibility ourselves too.

Probably some things are going to go a little bit slower, but by doing these things ourselves we earn valuable experience and the ability to work to our own rules. For us, right now, this is working.

  1.  When was the first time you doubted the validity of what you were doing?

We had been working on our product for about six months, without showing it to the rest of the world. We had talked to some specialists, grown our knowledge and had verified some our primary assumptions. At the beginning we were really excited, but without a clear confirmation of our vision from the outside, enthusiasm started to die down. After few months we were totally unsure if it anything we were doing even made sense. Fortunately, as we debuted our product and showed it to the market, we were shocked with the positive responses we got.

  1.  What holds back the development of start-ups?

From my observations, it seems that some start-ups try, to their detriment, to fit into certain stereotypes, and try and be something that they aren’t. It is easy to feel that even if you have a perfect idea, there will always be someone with more money, better resources, and can do it faster and better than you can. What actually distinguishes you on the market is unique core of the organization which is unmistakeable because its created by the people that work on it. Hence, one should always strive to be  authentic and build a brand consistent with one’s own beliefs and philosophy. Creating fantastic #humanexperience for your client becomes a value in itself, because it is that that sets your company apart.

  1.  What is the hardest thing about founding a start-up and what’s the key to getting it right?

Founding a business, especially for the inexperienced, it is a huge change from being an employee. There are so many things to think about all at once: building a vision for the company, dealing with financing, scaling, pitch-decks, all these infamous start-up buzzwords! It creates an awful lot of pressure. Worse, at some point you inevitably find out that someone, who of course started later than you, will earn millions, secured more money in their financing rounds…and what then?

I look at this scenario and I can see a major problem: You can’t have everything right away! Securing financing is already a full time job; if you’re chasing the money, where do you find the time you need to improve your product? For various reasons, we decided that we would not seek outside investment for the development of cux.io. When we had started, I was pregnant so it wasn’t the best time to convince investors to part with their cash. Aside from that, we wanted to do it on our own terms. From the beginning we had one thought in our minds – if we create a good quality product, investors will be interested in the company in its own right. Do you know when it happened? Two weeks after we first presented the Beta version to the world! Two weeks! It was a shock, but proved that our strategy for building the company way the right one for us.

  1.  How do you win new clients for your product?

To be honest: I am not a natural saleswoman, so if you’re looking for sales tips, you’ve come to the wrong place! What I do know, however, and what does come naturally to me, is building good relationships with people, and this is how I have been winning clients. We don’t have sales department in cux.io instead, Kamil and I focus on building relationships with people who need our product. Mostly important for us, we want to build relationships where we can learn from others in the industry so our product can constantly improve. Our first clients were those experts we consulted at the outset of the project before we started developing cux.io in earnest. Our product was, after all, driven by their needs!

  1.  What was your first job? What did you spend your money on?

I have always liked combine business and pleasure, so I went to work by the sea. Together with Kamil, we helped to run a small guesthouse. We were doing everything – from cleaning to  administering the website. It was a good lesson in how to work with clients. And the most important thing was that we could spend any free time we had at the beach and we took full advantage of that! Aside from that, we saved a lot of money so that we could go on holiday after the season was over. So I spent my money on an 18th birthday present to myself: A holiday in Mallorca with Kamil, somewhere I had always dreamed of visiting.

  1.  How do you motivate yourself?

I love what I do. I love my way of life, and preserving that is what motivates me.
I work a lot but almost every day I have time to have breakfast with my husband and son. I can be mom and businesswoman at the same time.

Its amazing because our company takes its first steps on the market, my son is taking his first steps in real life! It’s awesome privilege to be able to observe him and cux.io grow.

Likewise, I keep motivated on bad days by being able to let things go. I know that the next day I will work harder, smarter and better. That is the best model of work I could think of.

  1.  How would you encourage someone to found a start-up?

What I absolutely encourage is doing something that makes you feel good and makes you want more! And if that thing is start-up? Then you have to try! Especially when you have an idea that you really believe in. It’s good not to overthink everything and just try. You will not predict everything, but it is worth trying, even if it doesn’t go right, you will come back stronger, smarter and more experienced.

  1.  What is the most overlooked thing when it comes to start up?

In my opinion start-ups aren’t only about investor money. In an ideal world, as a founder you’d find the perfect investor, VC or Angel who could offer not just their money, but their guidance and help you to grow your business in a financially sustainable way so you are eventually in a position to lead the way alone. In this model, the investor is rewarded for their efforts and you as a founder demonstrate that your dream can be made into a reality.

There is not enough talk in my opinion about the dangers connected with unprofessional businesses and overinvesting. In Berlin we have major example of just that – SoundCloud, which apart from a huge amounts of money that it has had pumped in, still probably doesn’t have a financial base apart from further investment.

  1.  What is Berlin’s start-up community missing?

At big trade events we can hear people boast who has more investments, and how quickly they managed to earn their money. Obviously, money is important in business, but I would rather hear more about well thought-out, smart and quality products or success stories of bringing together the right brands and clients.

Sometimes it looks like we ran away from corporations to start-ups because we didn’t want to deal with the rat race. And now as a start-up community, where anyone can be whoever they want to be, we’ve built ourselves an alternative rat race, measured by financing rounds.

I didn’t resign from full time job and competition for promotion to race in another competition. In cux.io we want to do good work above all else.


Interview by Adam Łopusiewicz

Originally published here

Translation: Filip Żmijewski

Edition: Sarah Coughlan