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Is There a Recipe for Startup Success?


63 Squares founder Felipe Coimbra weighs in on one of the startup industry's toughest questions.

“I think people downplay the luck factor in all that,” Coimbra told Benzinga. “There's no real recipe for success. And just because somebody has done it once doesn't mean they can do it again. So do listen to everybody, but listen to yourself first. You know more than what they want you to believe.”

That's interesting advice to get from an entrepreneur. But as the founder of 63 Squares, a social media marketing solutions company, Coimbra knows firsthand what it means to start a business from scratch.

“It's not easy, but if you're the entrepreneur-type, you won't be happy doing anything else,” he insists. “So the sooner you get started, the better.”

Originally from Brazil, Coimbra was a software engineer who lived in various parts of the United States before moving to Montreal, Canada three years ago. “I decided to take a year off to work on whatever projects that interested me, regardless if they make money or not,” said Coimbra. “[The] original intent of 63 Squares was to be a web development shop; if none of my projects worked out financially, I would be able to get some money without having to get a real job.”

After the first year, Coimbra said that he had some products that were generating revenue. “[It was] worthwhile to keep pursuing them, so I used the name 63 Squares as an aggregator of all of the services I had developed,” he said. “And that's what it is now, with the focus in social media marketing tools.”

While many think of social media as a constantly evolving entity, Coimbra thinks that the biggest change is the level of acceptance. “Besides the social and personal use of social media, I had always seen the marketing potential in social media, so I think now it's just [a] more mainstream and standard marketing tool,” said Coimbra, who built the first 63 Squares product, Twtpoll, in the beginning of 2009. “Like any other communication sector – radio, telephone, and TV – social media has matured to a level where most people accept that it's here to stay. So the biggest change is that the fear that social media was just a fad is over.”

More Than Dumb Luck

Many startups survive on investments and/or dumb luck. 63 Squares, however, is actually profitable. “We tried many ways to monetize our products: from donations to ads and ‘pay what you want' models,” said Coimbra. “We're now a subscription-base service. Because they're business-oriented tools, we don't even offer free services for some of the products.”

Coimbra said that some of 63 Squares' tools are also heavily used for non-commercial use, most notably Twtpoll and Twtvite. “So in these cases we do have a freemium model,” he said, adding. “We get anywhere from 20,000 to 100,000 users/visits per day across all of our products.”

Regardless of how they are used, the focus remains on serving other businesses. “[Our products are] targeted at the business use of social media and each of them does a specific function,” said Coimbra. “We had thought about combining all of them into one single product, but instead we decided to have a bunch of very simple products. They're primarily based on Twitter, which is itself a very simple and specific product, so our users expect our tools to be simple as well.”

Coimbra said that a common characteristic of all of 63 Squares' products is that they're viral in nature. “The more people use them, [the more] others hear about them,” he said. “You can basically create polls and surveys, organize events, run contests, create coupons, sell products/services, and some look at some user analytics.”

Let's Have Some Fun(ding)

Unlike most startups, Coimbra said that 63 Squares is self-funded. “I'm very involved in the startup community in Montreal and I organize some monthly networking events, so I got to know a few investors in town,” he explained. “I have talked to many of them about the different products I was working at the time, but never really pursued funding,” Coimbra explained.

“I find the investors in Montreal [are] very open to meeting with different entrepreneurs and hearing about their ideas. I would even go as far as to say that investors anywhere are very approachable. I was recently in Berlin and I felt the same about some investors I met there.”

Coimbra may have bypassed the difficulty of acquiring outside funds, but his entrepreneurial journey was anything but easy. “When I was living in the US and working on my first startup (a social network for travelers), I was trying to get funding, mainly for me to be able to leave my current job and be able to work full-time on it,” said Coimbra. “My work permit required me to have a full-time job at all times. I wasn't able to get funding. So, I started looking at my options: going back to Brazil and work from there, wait at least five years for the US permanent immigration process, or wait one year for the Canadian immigration process. I had visited Montreal before and really liked the city, so it was an easy decision.”

Five Tips for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

Looking to launch your own startup? Coimbra has the following advice:

  1. “Do it now.”
  2. “Focus on the product.”
  3. “Don't try to think too big.”
  4. “Figure out how to monetize it fast ”
  5. “Network, ask people (preferably your users) for their opinion.”

With regard to finding investors, Coimbra said that anywhere with a “decent startup culture is fairly easy.”

“But it's a long process,” he warns. “Ultimately, they look at several factors when choosing companies to invest: the idea itself, the founders, the industry, etc. But to get them to listen to your idea and you (at different times), I think you should try to get to know them first. Most of the investors go to different networking events or are involved in different projects in the community. So get involved, get to know them first, and then try to get a meeting.”

Follow me @LouisBedigian


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