For this edition of Founders Interviews we spoke to Sérgio Vieira, Co-Founder and CEO of Bizay.
Bizay is a marketing services and products company whose mission is to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) be successful in their ways of communicating, changing the way in which they develop and implement their marketing strategy.
*This interview has been slightly edited for reading ease.
First, can you tell us about your professional backgound and the path that led you to Bizay?
I did my Bachelors and Masters degree in Business Administration. Then I began my career as a strategic consultant at Roland Berger and then I was also a senior controller in a small parcel logistics company that brought me into the real world of operations.
And how was Bizay born?
In 2013, my business partners and I saw an opportunity to disrupt the world of customizable products and we built a unique technology that integrated both sides of the equation at hand— supply side and demand side — in a way that we could operate our model without any production capacity. This form enabled all manufacturers, brands and wholesalers to offer customization on any product they chose, and reduced the cost of production of said products by 50% through batching and supply chain optimization technologies. The most crucial moment during this journey was the COVID pandemic. We had started 2020 in a very good place and we were going very fast, buring around 1 million euros monthly. In February, we were starting the roadshow for our next funding round. We were fundraising because we needed money within a horizon of 6–9 months, and suddenly COVID arrived and our revenues reduced by more than 80%. It was tough. Within a couple of weeks we had reduced our cash burn to 200k monthly, unfortunately with some tough repercussions, like laying off half of our team. Even though it was difficult we got through it and got back onto the fast track. We should all be very proud of our resilience because it was a really tough period.
How about now that the pandemic has settled down? Did you find it easy to scale back up or did you significantly adjust your business model during the pandemic?
We slightly adjusted our business plan. We put our entrance into North America on hold, because to cut our cash burn it was an easy thing to do. We have also been fine tuning our P&L, which today is great, because our contribution margin went quite high during that period and I believe that it was evidence to all of our investors that what we had been doing was right. Until then, we were just aiming to bring in more and more revenue, this allowed us to show that we have a profitable business. Of course we need to keep growing, but in the end the obligations we faced there made only made us better.
Do you have any tips or advice for someone who is just embarking on their entrepreneurial journey?
Well, I could write you a long list, but I’ll try to highlight around four or five. First thing that I believe is very important is surround yourself with a good team that is 100% interested and dedicated. Secondly, always be prepared for it to be more difficult than what you expect, and be prepared to work very, very hard. Thirdly — and this is my personal mindset but I believe thatit’s great for all entrepreneurs — is always defining revenue, and all your clients, as the North Star of the company. So, make revenue and always have the client in mind. Fourth, do not focus on what isn’t part of your core business. So, looking back, we were building several things that weren’t part of our core business, and we didn’t have the capacity to do everything at the same time. So I really recommend to not stray too far from your core business. It is mandatory that you build it, improve it, and improve it again. Use already existing solutions whenever you can, whatever others are doing, don’t spend your time on that. And fifth, do it fast!
Off the back of that, if you could go back in time, is there anything you would’ve done differently?
For sure, many things, no doubt about it. I made many mistakes, but for one, they were all part of the process, and secondly, I believe that I am now a better entrepreneur and a better manager due to those mistakes that I made. First thing I would change if I got to start over is I would’ve done it faster, because if I knew what I know now I could’ve probably achieved what we achieved in five years in just one year. That is a huge difference. I would’ve also not tried to create everything from scratch, when there were already solutions in the market. When you are a small company, and you have little money, you think that you can’t afford to buy third party solutions and so you try to create these yourself. This is not easy. Building everything from scratch takes a lot of time, takes a lot of maintenence, and is a distraction that you have from other more important things. This is one of the main reasons that nowadays I would’ve executed much faster. I also believe that it important for entrepreneurs to delegate more. This is very, very difficult. What you do when you are running a 6 person company, where you know everything that is going on — I was CC’d in every email, I knew everything about customer service, about managing our partners, about marketing, about finance, everything. When you start growing, you need to delegate, and the main thing is being able to cope with imperfection. If you want to have everything done 100% how you would do it, you need to them by ourself, but this is not scalable. It is much better to have things done quickly, and at 80% of what you wanted, through delegation. Of course, delegation means that you need to manage and control your people, but it also means that you have time to prioritise what you need to. It is probably the hardest part of being an entrepreneur and is likely one of the main barriers to scalability. To correctly delegate you need to continue being a role model, you need to teach people all the time, since you will continue to be your employees best point of reference.
What’s been the best part of growing your startup, and what’s been the most difficult part?
I would answer this very simply. It is fantastic to look back and see what we have achieved, its a huge feeling of accomplishment that we have. So, for sure, this is the best part. I can be tired, or I can have some problems some days, but looking back at where we started 5 years ago, I can’t help but feel proud. As for the most difficult part, I’d move away from the professional context and say that it is very difficult to manage all the personal and family sacrifices that being an entrepreneur involves. This may seem like an easy job, but it means that you need to work very hard to overcome the constant challenges that you will face. No one has ever started a succesful company on “easy mode”. Being an entrepreneur is very challenging and it means that you need to carefully manage your personal life.
*Interview by Álvaro Furtado