Reflections on building an unsexy startup

3 minute read


Instead of going towards the sexiest ideas in entrepreneurship, you might achieve a better result by doing something unusual, like an unsexy business. Find out how this journey has been treating our cofounder and Chief Growth Officer, Adrien Barthel


Why unsexy is better

I’ve been reflecting lately about Sleek as a non-sexy startup, and it all started a few years back when I read a great article by Y-Combinator founder Paul Graham about building unsexy businesses.

Paul had written that great startup ideas often were right under our noses, but people avoided them because they involved a tedious or unpleasant task. He says that you’ll glean better ideas from asking the question, “what problem do I wish someone else would solve for me?” than by focusing on new and shiny technology (see: blockchain, crypto).

That question is basically Sleek’s origin story. Julien and I had both used company secretaries in the past before when setting up companies in Singapore and been frustrated with the customer service we had received. And so – instead of being French and complaining about it – we decided to build a solution ourselves.


From compacts to company secretaries

Everyone made fun of me when I first told people that I was going into company secretary services – my background is in ecommerce and cosmetics. But I saw a real need that needed addressing, and there were some values in ecommerce that I thought could really make a difference to the industry – namely speed and quality of service, bringing it all online and making it as easy as snapping your fingers.

I’m proud to be an unsexy entrepreneur. We’re not ‘deep-tech’, we’re dealing with the issue of paperwork – but we’re using tech to go faster and deliver a service better than anyone else in the market.


Incremental change versus disruptors

So you’ve got what problem to solve – the sexy ones versus the unsexy ones.  Then you’ve got the types of solution. I think there are two different types:

  1. the solutions created entirely from scratch, in a way that is totally disruptive to the market, and
  2. the “incremental change” solutions that build on existing markets and focus on executing it better than their predecessors.

I’ve got a lot of respect for the first type – the ones who are innovators and building from scratch. But I do also think that ultra innovative businesses are also getting a lot of love from people who don’t know whether or not they’re going to succeed.

I’m firmly in the second camp. These ideas have a proven market – for example, when I spoke to 150 entrepreneurs between November 2016 to July 2017, almost all of those entrepreneurs were looking for an alternative to their current provider. In my opinion, Sleek isn’t a disruptive brand – we’re not reinventing the wheel – we’re not even going from the horse and carriage to the car. We’re more like going from the car to the electric car.


Final words

Building an unsexy startup has more upsides than downsides. If you can put your ego aside, there’s much to be gained – and when it comes to growing a business it shouldn’t be about the buzzwords or how TechCrunch-friendly your startup is.

If I was giving advice, it would be this: look at the things that are annoying you big time in your life, go for it and try to build a solution.

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