#0009 - Nic Haralambous

By
Civitas Team

33 ideas from Nic Haralambous on entrepreneurial life, fundraising and founding a cryptocurrency startup 


Nic Haralambous is a serial entrepreneur, speaker and the author of How to start a side hustle shares his story. Building his first website at age 12 Nic has spent over 15-year building businesses. His entrepreneurial journey includes many failures and successes. He has successfully sold three businesses with his latest venture being in blockchain and the cryptocurrency industry. A Civitas team member sat down with Nic to discuss his entrepreneurial life, fundraising and being a serial entrepreneur. You can find more about him at his personal website.

Summary of the best ideas from the discussion

  • Successful startups are about timing
  • Get enough sleep
  • Exercise and eat well
  • If required, talk to a psychologist
  • Avoid fads, focus on the real value 
  • Align your team on the number one goal 
  • Practice radical candor
  • Interview investors
  • Choose investors carefully 
  • Find investors that are partners 


On Startups

  1. “The more you practice the better your luck gets.”
  2. “I genuinely do believe that the biggest variable in building businesses and becoming successful is luck.  Luck and timing. They studied something like a hundred start-ups over a decade or two decades and the number one factor was timing.  If you launch your business too early or too late, you’re dead.  You have to be bang-on, like right people, right gap.”
  3. “My first business we raised a quarter of a million rand, CoinDirect, we’ve raised I think maybe R 20 million in our first round, which is our seed round. So the stakes get higher.” 

On Mental Health

  1. “At Motribe before we sold that company, I had a stomach ulcer and kidney stones twice.  I had insomnia, physical ramifications for the stress that my mind was under and I never associated those two things together.  I never realized that I wasn’t sleeping or eating properly or training, therefore, I was always stressed and couldn’t sleep and then physically was getting ill and luckily, as I got older, I started to understand that you can balance things.”
  2. “The very first thing that I changed was fixing my sleeping patterns. So that helps me immediately deal with stress.  If you are not getting seven to eight hours a night, you are absolutely doing yourself harm.” 
  3. “The first thing I tell my team when they look angry and frustrated. I ask them if they’ve slept enough recently and the answer is inevitably, no.” 
  4. “I’ve re-framed my psychologist as my mental coach because athletes have coaches for their diet and their training and everything else, why can’t entrepreneurs have mental coaches?”
  5. “I use my psychologist as a sounding board to help me unpack the boxes in my brain and it’s helped me immeasurably, the perspective it’s afforded me is just invaluable and every entrepreneur that I’ve spoken to who has a psychologist swears by it.”
  6. “One of my friends actually did have a really good recommendation and it was a very specific question that I asked him.  I asked him if he had a psychologist who could put up with an A-type, who was controlling and very ambitions and it turns out there are actually psychologists who specialize in different kinds of people with different kinds of problems.”
  7. “If you aren’t anxious about things and you learn how to work consistently eight hours a day, every day and get rest, you’ll probably have a better output.”
  8. “I always try and tell people to just – if you don’t believe me, get two nights of just good solid sleep, eight hours a day, two nights and come and talk to me again on that Thursday and see if you feel like a different human because the research is there.”
  9. “Perhaps you should use it, prioritizing better, hiring people who work better with you, getting a system in place, so that you’re not working a 15 hour day.”

On Finding Product-Market Fit 

  1. “It’s very iterative – you launch something, you see if it gets the traction, you want to put a little bit of marketing behind it, you analyse the data and then you attempt something different.”
  2. “You kind of just have to go with your experience, use your gut to see if it’s a product-market fit.”

On Marketing 

  1. “You need to build a community, so we focused very hard on building that community with great customer support and consistently just improving our product and our features.”
  2. “A PR strategy for us is what our main marketing is going towards.  We have a lot of talk-able topics, Crypto and blockchain, very popular, and in South Africa not a very well covered industry.  So we have become a very solid voice in the industry, in South Africa as well as in the UK and Europe.”

On Blockchain and Cryptocurrency 

  1. “We’ve moved away from sentiment-driven fluxes towards the consistent utility of where cryptocurrency is valuable.”
  2. “We are focused on the utility of block-chain and Bitcoin and cryptocurrency and that’s why over the last 18 months, we’ve spent our Dev time, really refining our product to promote the utility of cryptocurrency and that is in our B2B platform, if you’re a business who wants to accept crypto payments, you can use our tech to help you facilitate that payment.”

On Management 

  1. “I’m branded the COO, but I do marketing.  So I’m the CMO, I do HR, I do tech support, customer service and all of us do the same, we’re a small team of about 12 people in Cape Town and London, so we kind of just do whatever needs to be done and that’s how startups operate.”
  2. “What we’ve done at CoinDirect, is implement very simple systems to make sure that everyone shares the same vision and mission, often as a startup, it’s the hardest thing, keeping people aligned to why we’re doing what we’re doing and what the number one goal is.  For us, the number one goal is getting to break even and profitable so everyone is aligned to that.”
  3. “My job as a COO is to communicate the executive strategy into the company and make sure that we maintain that strategy and if need be we pivot and shift towards a better strategy.”
  4. “Overall we have two-week sprints, six-week reviews and you know we keep things as focused as possible.”
  5. “The best way and the only way that I know how to do it now, is actually something I practice internally at our company, it’s called radical candour.  If you are unaware of it and you’re listening to this podcast you can just Google radical candour.  It’s a method of engaging with your team and with the people around you and basically it’s to criticize directly but to care personally.  So you can say to your investor, your staff, your co-founders, “I still believe you’re an amazing person at what you do but this thing you’re doing is not correct.” So you’re criticizing the action and you’re criticizing the intent not necessarily the person behind it and that’s kind of how I’ve learnt to deal with investors, business development calls.”
  6. “Get your work done and then check your emails.”
  7. “Email is someone else’s to-do list for your day.”

On Fundraising 

  1. “There’s lots of money out there and if you disagree with me and you’re shaking your head right now, maybe you should reconsider if your idea is fundable because money is not an issue.”
  2. “What is very hard to find, is a good partner.  And that is what startup founders and people looking to raise money should unequivocally be looking for, is a good partner.”
  3. “Founders should be interviewing venture capitalists.  Founders should be interviewing the people who give you money, not the other way round because it’s very hard to get out of bed with an investor, once you’re in bed with them.”
  4. “The most complicated part of raising money is not finding it, it’s finding the right kind of money.”
  5. “At CoinDirect, we’ve got exceptionally good investors, who really support our vision and help facilitate intros, help us with business development but that’s the kind of partner that you want to build your business with.  The kind of partner who doesn’t want a return, they want to help you build the return.”
  6. “I’d say the most complex part of raising money for me, has actually been once you’ve raised the money, establishing a board when you get into real VC you need to have a board and often the investors will sit on that board and want to have little bit more play in the business than they should.”
  7. “It’s exceptionally hard to backtrack once you’ve got someone in.”


Full interview transcript


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