As featured in Sifted

I really thought I had seen it all before. After working for three consecutive startups with the same group of people, in the same way, I felt confident in my approach as an entrepreneur.

I have been fortunate to have had success starting companies, raising funding rounds and exiting. I had been part of the team at Zipcar, Lovespace and Shepper. However, there came a point when I wanted to test myself in a new environment and explore a different way of building businesses. I had never considered a venture builder firm as a possibility for starting my next company with, but once I met with Kamet Ventures, it was clear that this was a path I couldn’t pass up.

Kamet’s approach and processes were unlike anything I’d ever come across. It wasn’t just the structure and support, it was the chance to build something new within a unique framework, tackling the entrepreneurial challenge from a different vantage point.

A big part of the appeal of Kamet is the formula it’s developed — placing an emphasis on the research phase at the genesis of the business. Where most entrepreneurs simply start with just a good idea and then expend their efforts developing a product while working out market fit at the same time, the venture building approach is centred around the validation of the idea coming first.

The concept validation process takes roughly six to 12 months and involves intensely researching a space, starting out broadly before narrowing it down to just one idea that you run through several test stages — then deciding whether it’s a concept worth pursuing at each stage. The need to pivot or try a new idea altogether is therefore discovered during the venture building process, rather than a year or two years into the launch of the business when a huge amount of resource and effort has already been expended.

In my case, the team had already rejected 50 ideas before finding the right formula for Poncho, the childcare platform for working parents.  

The concept of beginning with the research may seem obvious, but outside of the venture building model, founders are operating on bootstrapped seed funding, which means it’s a luxury many startups can’t afford. This more structured approach of building a company, where founders can validate their venture against metrics from inception, provides a clear roadmap to success that entrepreneurs simply don’t have when going it alone.

“Outside of the venture building model, founders are operating on bootstrapped seed funding, which means [research is] a luxury many startups can’t afford.”

Another benefit of venture builders is the close relationship with corporates. Having corporate partners on hand to provide support through the R&D phase and providing access to their own network is an invaluable resource for a founder. Ordinarily, it would potentially take a startup years to get anything off the ground with a corporate unless there’s an exceptional connection. However, once the first connection is made, there’s a halo effect — it gives your early-stage business gravitas when you’re out there trying to get investors, partners or customers to buy in.

The difficulty for founders is that joining a venture builder can feel like you are going against the core tenets of entrepreneurship. The traditional entrepreneur is someone who wants to be number one, the person calling the shots, the visionary who sees a gap in the market and pursues it zealously against all odds and at any cost. It certainly took a while to adjust to the team approach to ideation and concept validation, with many more steps (and time between them) than I was accustomed to.

However, having had the experience of being a standalone founder and one supported by the venture building process, I can attest to the virtue of removing the burdens from entrepreneurship. This means both the physical burden, with invaluable support to help with the heavy lifting across all business functions, but also the mental burden founders face in making the business a success, which is alleviated by the initial research that effectively de-risks the venture.

I joined Kamet as an entrepreneur-in-residence with a desire to create something that would help alleviate the stress in people’s lives. Ultimately, I achieved this with Poncho, the platform we created that allows employers to offer their employees access to a wide range of activities and classes that help children with their education, mental wellbeing, and physical health.

I was involved immediately following the inception of the concept, joining the team that had already conducted extensive research into the childcare market to identify a challenge that we could solve. Having identified the affordability and accessibility challenges in the space, we successfully moved on to the design phase, and finally we brought the product to market with me leading the business as its first CEO. Today, our product is used by the likes of JCDecaux, Tech Nation and Douglas & Gordon.

I understood at the beginning that this would be a different entrepreneurial journey. For one thing, the pace would naturally be slower, as we tested the concept before creating the product. Like many entrepreneurs, I am impatient to get a good idea to market. However, the benefits of the venture building approach, which I found was a more efficient way to bring a product to market than I had ever experienced before, outweighed my entrepreneurial vices while satisfying my entrepreneurial virtues.

Ben Prouty is the cofounder and CEO of Poncho.