On this week’s Startup Spotlight, we’re thrilled to interview Jitesh Lakhani, founder of Univy, a platform designed to allow content creators to manage and monetise their content and courses via live stream or pre-recorded events.
Jitesh has worked in the Financial Services industry for over 15 years. Starting as a core software developer, he switched roles after seven years to become a functional product owner. This gave him a great balance of understanding between a customer’s journey and its underlying technology.
Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you better. So, can you tell us a bit of your “backstory” and how you got started?
I studied computer science at university and found programming something that came naturally, and most importantly, I enjoyed it. I decided to pursue a career as a programmer and ended up in the banking industry.
Getting my first role was very difficult after graduating, and eventually, I accepted a role as a software administrator. After successfully clearing a 3-year backlog within four months of working there, I heard my manager talking with a recruitment agent looking for a graduate developer. I approached him and asked him to give me the role, given that I had proven myself as an administrator in such a short time. After some negotiation, he agreed, and my career was then set.
After three years, I freelanced within the banking sector, first as a developer and then eventually moving into more functional roles, which gave me an appreciation of software’s technical and functional side.
What was the most exciting story that happened to you since you launched your startup?
To be honest, I am still waiting for it. It’s been a tough journey, but I allowed myself to reflect on the journey and be proud when Univy did launch.
No startup founder is immune from making mistakes, and it’s part of the “growing pains” they go through. Can you share one mistake you’ve made with us and the valuable lesson it taught you?
I was trying to do too much at the same time.
As a founder, you tend to overthink and try to incorporate too much within the initial MVP, so the lesson taught me to just concentrate on one use case.
If torn between multiple use cases, create multiple landing pages or surveys to see which use case garners the most interest and then work to build that one.
There has been much talk about supporting diversity and inclusion among startup investors. This may be obvious to you, but can you share with our readers the reasons why it’s so important for investors to support startups with a diverse and inclusive executive team?
Those that come through diverse cultures, backgrounds, and upbringing have different life experiences and can often have a different way of thinking. These can lead to a more varied startup idea and execution method.
I believe allowing these founders to show what they can do is hugely important. Supporting them will encourage others from diverse and minority backgrounds to take the plunge of creating something of their own.
If you can inspire a movement that would bring a positive change within your community, what would that be and why?
Within my community, the norm is for families to drive their children to steady careers and not really give encouragement to build their own businesses or startups.
I would love to bring awareness to the community that commercial and internal success can also be created by launching your own startup whilst encouraging them to show their children all the options available and hence diversify the path they can choose.
If you had a chance to spend a day with someone and have the liberty to ask anything, who would that person be? What three questions would you ask?
If given a chance, I’ll ask him:
- The journey of how Microsoft got to their first MVP version of Windows
- How they validated the market fit back in the 80s when not many people had computers, and there was no such thing as the internet.
- How they found the marketing and brand awareness journey. I’m sure that would be very different from how we do it today.
Can you share your favourite life quote with us and why this is so relevant to you?
It’s actually a film quote from Rocky Balboa:
“You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life, but it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”
I’ve been told I’m a fighter and don’t let situations keep me down.
I’ve been knocked back plenty of times in life and on this startup journey. But I keep plowing forward!
Great! Thanks for that. Now, let’s go to the main focus of this interview. Can you share with us the story behind that “A-ha Moment” you had that led to the idea of creating and launching your startup?
I left my role in banking at the end of 2019 and set off on a 9-week adventure around the southern hemisphere to figure out my next steps.
I had decided to create my own startup but had not figured out the sector during the trip. When I got back, the pandemic hit. Whilst browsing my social media, I noticed a number of my connections creating their own courses via pre-recorded videos and conferences.
They were using multiple routes to host and monetise, i.e., Zoom, asking people to send money via Paypal, creating private groups on Facebook, and giving permission to join once funds had been transferred. This inspired me to create an aggregator marketplace platform for content creators to monetise their skills online.
What do you think makes your startup stand out? Can you share with us examples to show this?
I have created a platform for anyone to monetise their skill online. This allows those starting up to expose themselves to a wide audience and give them a chance to build their own brand and following.
Obviously, it will take time for Univy to be a fully stocked marketplace, but once it this will give our content providers a powerful platform to start their own journeys.
Univy also has plans to enter the Web3 space, but I will keep quiet on those plans for now. 😊
What are some “myths” or misconceptions people have when launching a startup that you’ve debunked throughout your journey?
The main one I kept being told was that you cannot create a tech startup on your own and need a team of co-founders.
From my standpoint, a sole founder can work if they come from a tech background. On the commercial side, I got some advice and used my own experience of running my parent’s business at a young age. I pooled those together and, as a result, managed to launch Univy.
If there’s one significant difference between launching a startup and launching a small business, what would that be and why?
In my view, the main difference is that with a startup, you are already looking at building something substantial to make a real change and generating income isn’t the forefront.
With a small business, the goal is to start generating revenue quickly, and the main goal is to pay the bills and get the business owner through everyday life.
What are the top three traits that entrepreneurs must possess to launch a startup successfully? Can you expound on why you chose these three traits?
You must have a clear vision for the short, medium and long term and how to build each goal whilst keeping the next milestone in mind. Without having a clear vision and how to get to the next level, the startup will fail to attract the talent and investment needed.
Many things will occur during the journey, and many people will give negative comments. Most important is to try not to let those moments and words get to you and continue going forward.
Listening to constructive feedback and being able to admit certain things are not going the right way and hence being able to accept change or pivot even if suggested by someone else.
Also, know your strengths and weaknesses. Don’t be afraid to delegate tasks to people who are better at certain aspects.
Let’s flip things around: What do you believe are the three things that can cause a startup founder not to become successful, and why?
Market Fit and Volume
These two go hand in hand, in my view. So the product must have enough people who want to use and use it multiple times and enough of a new audience becoming available daily.
The idea might be brilliant, but if the timing is incorrect, it can cause it not to work, whether the idea is too early or in a crowded market but not different enough to stand out.
If the market fit and timing are spot on, but the product is not developed to an excellent standard, reputation damage will still occur. For an early-stage startup, this can be fatal.
As a parting gift to our readers, what are the top three pieces of advice that you can give to them about launching a startup and why? Please share a story for each.
Be prepared for a non-linear journey.
When I started Univy, I had planned timelines for each milestone, but each of those got pushed out much further than I thought.
When building a product, be prepared for unexpected issues you did not foresee and create workarounds to get past those.
The brand name is essential.
You may have to pivot (more than you think), and your brand name must be something that can be applied if this happens.
When I initially created Univy, it was to be a virtual events company, and I had codenamed it Project VIRTE (Virtual Eventing).
When choosing the brand name, I wanted to pick a name that was not tied down to virtual events per se and came up with Univy (to Unify people virtually).
As the product building took place, the platform became a platform for content creators rather than a virtual events platform, but the brand name still worked very well with the pivot and will still work very well with the potential move into Web 3.0.
Have a good support network of friends and family.
It’s a tough journey and can be lonely, so make sure you have a good support network, even if it’s just someone to vent to.
Thank you for these fantastic insights and for your time. We truly appreciate it and wish you all the best on your journey.
Univy is Raising!
Click below to learn more about this exciting startup investment opportunity.