Startup studios are not one size fits all. That's why we find it so important to highlight all different types of studios out there. While we stand up behind the startup studio model as a revolutionary process for launching startups in a successful manner, we find it fascinating to learn more about the different innovations that entrepreneurs are injecting into this model.
That being said, welcome back to another spotlight! This week we share with you one studio's mission to find its purpose. With a massive shift away from corporate innovation, these three founders relied on getting their hands dirty to feel fulfilled in their entrepreneurial hearts.
Meet Whatnot Startup Studio! Based in Bangkok, Thailand, three co-founders are running after their vision to shape the future of work in South East Asia. With a unique story and funky branding, this is a studio you don't want to miss out on. Keep reading and see what drives them to run their factory of ideas.
Meet the Founders
Lifelong friends and entrepreneurship enthusiasts who met during high school in Lithuania, Kastytis Kemezys, Justas Rinkevicius, and Matas Danielevicius reconnected after a decade and 4,812 miles later in Thailand. Back then, Kastytis and Justas were running a startup accelerator together in London called Cinnamon Bridge Accelerator, while Matas was helping out a tech startup that had relocated to Thailand from the UK for cost-saving reasons. While Kastytis was traveling, he was able to meet up with Matas which sparked curiosity about the opportunities available there. Kastytis and Justas moved to Bangkok a few years later, this is where they discovered the startup studio model, by tackling different problems their clients would bring up during their corporate consulting jobs. This eventually led the three of them to be co-founders of Whatnot Startup Studio.
With a need to have a more balanced life, all three co-founders took inspiration from studios like Wilbur Labs and Betaworks in the sense that they transitioned from corporate venture building to building in their own space. After spending years working on corporate consulting projects, they could only describe the work as feeling inauthentic, because after all, they were entrepreneurs at heart. For them, this meant less micromanagement and more speed. The key takeaway was reevaluating the mission and purpose behind it all.
What led was an interesting story of them waking up at 6 am to pick up fresh milk from cows near Khao Yai National Park to make fresh mozzarella, a skill they mastered with some help from hours of extensive online research. While this was not their bread and butter, it allowed them to get creative and think like the entrepreneurs they were. In turn, it sparked the feeling of fulfillment they had been looking for all along. This is the entrepreneurial mindset for anyone going into the startup studio model should have top of mind. This proved that while the startup studio model may not work for everyone, for creative and hands-on people, it might be the missing puzzle piece for those seeking more fulfillment in their careers.
This shift has also allowed them to create a great culture while still building multiple companies. Through flexibility and care for mental health, they focus on outcomes they are excited about rather than just working hard. Doing this takes the extra force and pressure off projects that no one cares about or is excited to wake up and do every day.
With such a unique story and branding, our team was even more curious to know how the name Whatnot was selected for their studio. The founders explained to us that when it came time to name their company, they spent 3 days brainstorming and listing out words that described them accurately, but also felt authentic enough. They found themselves continuing to list words and ending the phrase with “and whatnot”....” Eventually Matas just caught the tiny word at the end, they all agreed on it and the definition that went along with it:
“Word used to refer to an item or items that are not identified but are felt to have something in common with items already named.”
As the entrepreneurs and creative minds that they are, they see opportunity everywhere, sometimes more than they can take on. They keep their focus on problem-solving, which is the main force that drives each decision on the venture lifecycle. Two of their recent projects showcase the problem and solution mindset.
Finding opportunities for studios to build upon is never the challenge, selecting the ones that are the right fit for a studio and founder is where it can get tricky. Keeping goals in mind is essential during the selection process, and something Whatnot does a great job emphasizing in their model. By pinpointing the future of work, and the shift to remote work Whatnot looks at 2 things:
When deciding if a concept is going to be successful the Whatnot team helps identify it through these 4 big questions.
1) Does it solve a problem big enough for customers to be willing to pay for the business to have a sustainable cash flow?
2) Can we test the hypothesis by bringing the concept to the first paying customers in less than six months?
3) If the hypothesis is validated - is the market big enough and mature enough for rapid scale?
4) Does this concept get all of the team members excited about building it?
They are after concepts that can bring real revenue from a paying customer in three to six months. It needs to be sound with little to no code at all for the team to take it further. If the market is not hungry for the problem to be solved, they shift their focus towards concepts and ideas that are.
“If we prove there’s a need - there's a way.”
Through this process, they take on three new concepts every six months with the goal to spin out one in a calendar year. During the first six months, they focus their attention on determining and validating the issue itself. They match solutions to these issues with evidence to back the claim on why people care about having the problem solved. The following six months are then focused on achieving the problem-solution fit and measuring the willingness of a consumer to pay for it, return to it, and advocate it.
Through a realistic approach, they also become very supportive and comfortable with the idea of failure. Since every big idea cannot make it through, understanding “the why” helps guide the long-term goal. If every idea made it through, less and less attention would go to the ones most fit to survive out in the world.
After being one of the first to run after this model in Thailand, they have since seen growth in the promotion of this model over the last 5 years. However, most still come out of corporations or corporate venture capital funds like bank giants SCB 10x and KASIKORN X. Overall, development there is vibrant and fast-paced.
While it is becoming more competitive in the ecosystem of Southeast Asia, there are many opportunities for creative and entrepreneurial minds, it offers a complex, diverse, and culturally authentic spot for a studio model to build products that need proper validation.
Fundraising is never an easy task and can often be time-consuming. For Whatnot, when they shifted away from the corporate model, their cash flow relied on the performance of the ventures. This was only a short-term fix as they wanted the startups to grow rather than solely fund other concepts. Their solution, fundraising 6mil USD locally to help build 15 concepts in the next 3 years. They acknowledge the challenging process but state it is something they need to do.
Whatnot reached out to us eager to share their story, passion, and the reason why they left corporate innovation. They did not disappoint, and we hope you found today's spotlight a fascinating one. We love connecting with the founders and diving deeper beyond a website landing page to truly understand why the startup studio model exists and is exponentially growing on a global scale. Be sure to check out Whatnot on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, or at https://whatnot.co/about/
We get to talk to so many unique studios from around the world, each with its own characteristics that set them apart. From this spotlight series, we are about to connect and grow with founders from all around and expand our knowledge of the startup studio model. Stay tuned for more blogs, spotlights, and more coming to Startupstudiosinsider.com.
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