Episode 4: Damian Kimmelman – What They Didn’t Teach You In Start-Up School

Show Notes

Damian Kimmelman

DueDil stands for Due Diligence. They aggregate data on private companies and have data on 100 million companies. The data they have is used within sales, marketing, credit, and compliance for the purposes of automating tasks and creating efficiency. 

How did you find the gap in the market to come up with the idea?

Damian had a rather unsavoury experience with his ex-business partner who falsified his accounts to get a loan from the bank. Damian hadn’t done his due diligence and nor did the bank. The banks had a lot of information but it was very fragmented, this meant that nobody understood who their counter party was, thus Due Dil was born to provide due diligence. 

If someone is looking for a business partner, what sort of due diligence should someone do and what would you recommend?

There’s nothing better than history, having worked a long time with someone. There’s tonnes of resources to really understand what a person has done in their past. It’s important to remember that the past does not equal the future, but you should always enabled with as much information on the counter parties as possible.

What qualities do you actually look for form a Co-Founder?

It’s important to remember that having a business partner is about synergy. The question you need to ask yourself is, do you better each other? Do you improve the work of one and another and do not resent each other for improving the work. Some people like to do better than others and take all the credit. 

What was your experience of going on the journey and getting funding?

Damian had never gone out to get funding before. Right now the tech scene in London is pretty well developed, many businesses came before and are much bigger. Getting funding was about how different and how transformative you are as a company. 

When Due Dil first went to market, a lot of people thought what they were doing was actually illegal and this actually worked in their favor because it got people talking about them. 

Going to investors is about creating a strong value proposition and then how you plan on transforming the industry.

How do you keep going despite people thinking what you’re doing is illegal? How did you put the naysayers to one side and focus on what you wanted to do?

One of the things he looks for is grit and perseverance. Perseverance trumps any other characteristics, this is an exceptional quality. It’s important to remember that at every single stage of your business you’re going to get naysayers. 

You need to be mindful of the naysayers, but confident enough in the path you’re choosing. He wishes that he could have the confidence that he does not when he started in business because he would have avoided a lot of second guessing and making mistakes. 

How much importance do you place on humility, and what are your triggers to step outside the comfort zone?

The first pitch that Damian ever did, Mike Butcher from Tech Crunch told him that he needed to find someone else to do his pitching. Damian always suffered from confidence issues and used to second guess things. Part of having grit involves having humility. You’ve got to have an approach where short-term your pessimistic and long-term optimistic, but it’s also about having the drive and resourcefulness. You’ve got to look at obstacles as opportunities. 

A study was done on perseverance by Harvard Business Review where they found people who had the greatest perseverance. They looked at survivors of the Holocaust. The people who survived had realism, humility, they were resourceful, had the drive and a purpose. 

One of the survivors who wanted to write a book on the psychology of being in prison camps actually turned his experience there into a game.

What is your trigger to do something that is outside of your comfort zone?

They are probably going to forget about it after a while and talk s*** about Apple. It really doesn’t matter. It’s a long road ahead and you’ve got many years to improve yourself.

What were your biggest influencers to develop grit? 

Everyone quantifies grit in a different way, it’s not natural to anyone, and it’s conditioned. It’s a product of failure and picking yourself back up again and dusting your shoulders to pursue an objective. If you constantly apply yourself to get there.

At what point in time do you decide to quit, where’s the balance between grit and quitting?

In order to do this correctly, you need to define what failure and success look like from the onset. This is important so you don’t lie to yourself when something is a success and failure. It’s about having a clear and thoughtful way to describe what success and failure look like because for each person is going to be different. It’s not a fixed answer. A lot of people say success was just around the corner for a number of people and then they decided to quit. When you’re confident in your own perseverance it’s important to hit those goals, and then you can be quite objective about failure. 

Failure is too often an emotional experience rather than part of the journey. Failure and success are not what you should be focused on. You should focus on constantly learning. The most successful companies don’t focus on failure and success because you’ll ultimately anti-fragile and you’ll break. If you’re constantly improving and learning, those are the most impressive businesses.

When you look at businesses, how do you evaluate and define what a successful business is?

There’s a number of ways to look at what makes a business successful. There’s the classical way, where you can look at their cogs and their top line figures. 

Alternatively, you can look at companies like Amazon where they’ve not turned a profit year on year and you start to think is that the only way to proceed. It really depends on what business you’re talking about and what their goals are. 

Damian’s personal definition of a successful business is long-term value creation for the stakeholders. 

What have you learned throughout the journey that you would have done differently to avoid some of the pitfalls you’ve come across?

Define Success and Failure. If you don’t make failure part of the learning experience, you’ll create a lot of conflict and complexity which slows the business down. 

Should you market an idea first and get market validation with thousands of subscribers or should you get an idea and pursue down the path of pitching to investors?

Successful businesses have been created in either way. Bear in mind, can you deliver immediate value? Online there’s been 20 years of businesses and the business models are pretty known it would be foolish to not have an understanding of how you’re going to make money from the onset. 

There’s plenty of books out there that can help. You can plan on acquiring new users, and be turning them into customers through freemium models, that’s one method. You can also withhold charging for a while, but not having an understanding of how you’re going to make money is rather foolish. Even space X know how they’re going to make money one day and they are incredibly complex. Understand what value and to who the value would be the greatest? 

That definition of success or failure and ideas change

DueDil has pivoted and iterated, but Damian argues it would be a lot easier when you’re trying to test and issue beforehand because it’s slightly different from a product market fit. Identify where you’re driving the most value, that’s where you should focus on.

How do you find what’s of most value?

It’s really based on qualitative data and talking to end users as well as understanding pain points and making you’re extracting the right feedback. 

End-users get pitched to all the time, how do you actually get them to speak to you so that they know you’re serious about adding value?

There are a few clever techniques, this one works really well. Damian’s trick is to go to linked in, go to past employees and ask them if they do paid consultancy and if you can have a 15-minute chat. It’s not a bait and switch because if they’re good you make you pay them.

You can extract so much value from people just by asking the right questions and they have so much understanding because they’ve left the company.

What about medium sized companies?

At every size, there are different techniques. The worry is using the wrong technique and assuming you’re getting the right answers. Identify what the objective is and figure out how you’re going to get the answers. If you’re trying to do user research call up and email people. Why? Everybody loves being an expert. When you interview someone, they often thank you for interviewing them so be sure to ask as many questions as possible. Also, don’t worry about looking like an idiot. Give people a caveat that so many questions will sound stupid but you’re going to ask them anyway and you can laugh later about how stupid they are.

How many people should you ask?

5 is the golden number, then test the hypothesis. 

 Due Dil hires smart people, what’re your criteria’s to hire someone smart? When you’re bootstrapping it can be a gamble hiring the wrong person.

The first people you should hire shouldn’t be the smartest, they should be the hustlers, and these are generalists and people that are entrepreneurial. They should have an inquisitive nature and be very flexible. Then once you start heading in the right direction you can focus more on hiring people more suitable for a specific task. 

How do you make others believe in what you believe?

It’s important to understand what you have and what they are after. The more you understand what their aspirations are, the more you can understand what value to you is and what value to them is. 

How do CEOs keep their ears on the ground to ensure their listening to the voices of their employees?

One business he knows, the CEO would call up line managers and ask about their numbers and if they didn’t know their numbers, that could spill trouble, but that’s very operational.

The alternative is having 121’s, and hallway chats. The bigger you get the harder communication becomes and that’s always the weakest link in a company. 

Simon Sinek has some good points but they are not universal, for example. Elon Musk is probably shit to work with but he’s transformative, and so is Steve Jobs. However, those businesses are extremely fragile most of the time and it doesn’t work for 90% of leaders. Leaders need to focus on being empathetic. 

What are your Top 5 takeaways for business owners?

  1. Define what success and failure
  2. Try and build a growth mentality and culture by organizing meetings
  3. Proper definition and a value proposition
  4. People values vs company values
  5. Always understand what stage you’re hiring for. 

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