Riccardo Osti is the CEO of Wonderflow, an Amsterdam-based startup offering SaaS software he describes as “the magic missing piece” – and one that enables brands to turn customer feedback into genuinely impactful actions.

Whether it’s creating better customer experiences, improving product offering or making vital tweaks to daily operations, Wonderflow allows businesses to flourish through the value of what their customers are saying, using this to make effective, data-backed decisions.

While pretty much all companies are collecting customer data in at least some capacity, and have been doing so for a very long time, actually turning those learnings into something you can benefit from, is where things get difficult. That’s where Wonderflow’s SaaS software comes in.

“You can think of everything that is written in online reviews, everything that is shared through the contact centre when you call a brand, when you answer a survey or when you chat on the company website. It’s very difficult to carry out the complete process of data collection, through to actually making the decision. We’re specialised in that.

We work with companies that normally collect or generate a lot of consumer data and we extract the value that’s inside that data. We do that with national language processing; so linguistic technologies that simulate human interpretation capabilities, but also with predictive and prescriptive technologies. We predict what the brand should do in order to improve their net promoter score, their ratings and reviews, their customer satisfaction, their revenue, and so on. We really shorten the gap between collecting feedback and doing something with it.”

Thrown in at the deep end

Riccardo says one of Wonderflow’s biggest early challenges actually came when they began serving huge multinational enterprises, the likes of Philips, TomTom and HTC, despite still being a team of just two or three people. That meant ensuring their business model could cope with the kind of pressures associated with serving this scale of operation.

“The biggest challenge was to build our first product as an already enterprise-grade solution. So one that could be used by an enterprise comfortably, and without them being anxious that their data would be lost.”

Another difficulty came with educating the managers at these enterprises on the value of utilising this customer data. Essentially this meant proving the worth and product-market fit of what Wonderflow was actually offering to potential clients who weren’t necessarily always open to change.

“We had to always work with managers who because they work at an enterprise, were not so advanced in terms of the customer-centric mindset, or they were not used to doing something with this data. They were collecting a lot of data, they were trying to understand, but they never really had a process to put this data to work, to make something with it. So we had to not just sell the product, but to educate them – and in the early days as a startup, this is extremely challenging.”

That willingness at an enterprise level to work with a startup like Wonderflow came as a surprise to Riccardo, as was his business’ ability to outperform those considered market-leaders in the industry.

“From a practical perspective, it really surprised me to see a company of our size outperform the market-leaders in terms of quality of analysis, actionability of the data performance, number of users per company, etc. So I thought we had a gap that we had to fill. When we tested this with users we found ourselves to be out in front for many aspects.”

However, despite Wonderflow earning that trust from enterprise-level businesses in its initial stages, Riccardo did highlight that this isn’t a common occurrence – and there’s still an unfortunate reluctance between these companies to break the habit of solely dealing with other big names.

“I’m surprised that many enterprises still believe they should be working with mainly large companies and not with scaleups because they do not understand that if they want real innovation, they have to work with companies who do that innovation, which is not other big companies.

Hiring talent: A balancing act

Striking that balance between the calibre of talent and sticking to budget is a huge task, particularly when you’re first finding your feet.

“Hiring is very complicated because you need to find someone that in your mind, in your eyes, you expect to be so careful, so passionate and so devoted to the company as you were. Another challenge relates to the budget because startups and scaleups do not often have an enormous budget to spend, and therefore they tend not to hire the tier one, the very best professionals. But these are what you really need to scale.”

However, Riccardo does point out that getting the right people in the startup hiring phase is a worthy investment, and cutting corners here is likely to become an expensive mistake further down the line regardless. Riccardo also highlighted that as a founder, you will inevitably become not as involved in the hiring process as you once were, which can be difficult.

“When you are small, the time of the founders is 100% litigated to the growth and creation of the company itself, so it’s fine, you have the founders completely involved. At a certain point, the organisation grows to a level where the founders cannot do everything, or control everything on their own.”

Culture and development

As is the case with just about any scaling business, maintaining the original startup culture you instilled in the early days can be difficult as you grow. To ensure you’re always doing right by your team, Riccardo says it’s important to practice what you preach, bringing the same attitude you would when advising customers into how you approach managing your employees.

“I think what we do is that we teach our customers to carefully listen to what their customers say, and we have to teach ourselves to carefully listen to what our employees say.”

A big part of that is offering everyone in your team the chance to develop and progress. Not only will this go a long way in allowing you to retain the best talent, but it also directly affects business performance. Naturally, as team members can see opportunities to progress it drives motivation, which is good news for your operation.

“We have created an experienced HR team, who take care of the personal development of everyone who works at Wonderflow, because we care about it, and it’s beneficial for the company.”

Knowing your worth

While there will never be a ‘one size fits all’ approach to funding options, Riccardo highlighted a common theme he had seen when it came to the funding strategy of countless European startups.

“I think scaleup-startups in Europe, they always tend to underestimate their value and therefore accept deals that are not as good, or not optimal for the company. I think we’re told that in the early stages, it’s better to raise less money and then maybe do a larger round later on.

“I think it’s very important to develop your company at a much faster pace, which is more likened to the US way of seeing these things. Therefore you need money. You need money to attract the best talent, you need money to iterate, to make changes and to try it again.

“It would be much easier if you can count on this funding in the early days, so you don’t have to spend your time raising in multiple rounds, because that absolves a lot of your time. So I would say try to raise fewer rounds, but bigger rounds.”

With that being said, Riccardo did hedge his advice by conceding if something doesn’t feel right to you personally, no amount of advice from anyone is going to change your decision, something which he admitted being guilty of himself.

Seeking a mentor

Learning to hand over the reins is often one of the most difficult things a founder can experience as they scale, and delegation becomes a vital tool in your arsenal.

While it’s natural to be incredibly protective over what you’ve created, it’s an essential skill that will not just benefit your business, but also your own wellbeing. This also demonstrates another big motivator in getting your hiring process right and surrounding yourself with the best possible people, who will naturally make handing over that bit easier.

“I think one mistake that I can place myself into, is that you always want to do everything yourself, even when this is not possible anymore. The culture of delegating, normally an entrepreneur has to learn this from someone else external.

“So you need to find a mentor, maybe someone who’s spent their career somewhere else, who can teach you how and why you have to delegate. It doesn’t mean that you’re not going to be successful if you really want to view everything and be present all the time, but you’re not living a good life if you take this approach.”

Be the best in class

We asked Riccardo for some of the best business advice that he’d ever been given, coincidently, he recalled a piece of wisdom that was actually shared during a Techleap event.

“We were talking about expanding to other markets, one person said if you expand to another market you need to do it when you want to win the market, not to sell more.

“I think this is very much the approach that scaleups need to have. If we do something we need to excel, we need to do it because we believe we can become the best in class, the best in that market, the best in that niche and not because we want to make more revenue.”

Riccardo’s keys to success

Upon being asked to share his own guidance for entrepreneurs, Riccardo stressed again how important a strong and reliable founding team is for startup growth and long-term success.

“It’s crucial to have founders that you can always have with you. If you know for a fact that they’ll never give up, it’s all you need to get through the more difficult situations. Build the founding team that you would bet everything on.

“Second, is to always ask for more money. This is valid for investors, but also more importantly for customers. If you build something that is valuable and you are asking too much, maybe they say ‘it’s too expensive’ and then you lower your price. Do not be afraid to ask for more, the worst thing that can happen is someone says it’s too expensive.

“The third is probably connected. Search for the quickest possible validation of what you build. For example, if I ask someone for a lot of money for our product and they tell me they don’t see the value, I cannot offer them a discount, because they don’t see the value.

“Even if I priced it at one euro, they still won’t buy it. So understanding if the perceived value is what we had in mind when we designed that product is crucial.

The true power of networks

Finally, Riccardo spoke about his experience in the Rise programme and his inspiration for getting involved. He touched on the value he had found with creating a strong network in the early days of Wonderflow, something which he could also see offered in the programme be it from fellow founders or the entrepreneurs in residence.

“I think what helped Wonderflow become a successful scaleup, is the network that we had around us in the early days.

“I’m originally from Rome, when I moved to Amsterdam, on day one I went through Rockstart, from there I met 50 people. These people helped us to make it through, to get our first customers, and to get to know our first investors.

“So Techleap, I think it has been built to be that type of community for growing.”

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Rise is your one time opportunity to connect with other founders and create together a strong peer community where you can share learnings and get inspired by one another. During the programme, you’ll be able to ask all your questions to seasoned entrepreneurs and gather deep, honest insights about scaling a startup successfully.

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