Interview with a Successful Startup Founder

Raising €250k to Build an HR Platform & Failing to Find Product-Market Fit

Pierre Tillement
Pierre Tillement
May 11, 2021
Category of startup
Software & Hardware
Country of startup
Belgium
Revenue of startups
Interview with a Failed Startup Founder

Raising €250k to Build an HR Platform & Failing to Find Product-Market Fit

Pierre Tillement
Pierre Tillement
May 11, 2021
Category of startup
Software & Hardware
Country of startup
Belgium
Cause of failure of the startup
No Market Need

Pierre co-founded Hello Tyro, a platform matching students with internship opportunities in Belgian startups. They raised €250k and reached €4k MRR at their top but didn't find Product-Market Fit. They ran out of cash and filed for bankruptcy in 2020.

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Hi Pierre! Who are you and what are you currently working on?

My name is Pierre Tillement and I’m from France. I am 27 and currently based in Paris.

Since January 2021, I joined Zetoolbox as their new Head of Community. My role is to build the community of the best french-speaking freelancers in the no-code space to help SMBs in their digital transformation.

Hello Tyro was a platform matching students with internship opportunities in Belgian startups. I was the co-founder and COO of the startup which we launched in 2018.

My role as COO was to put the best tools in the hands of our 4 recruiters to make their job easier by automating most of their work so they could spend their time on the more valuable tasks.

I was also in charge of developing the platform which was used by students and startups. To build it we use a stack of no-code tools like Webflow, Airtable, Zapier, Memberstack, and a few others to offer them the best possible experience.

We started originally as a service company where startups would pay for our service when we found the right intern for them. As time went on and learned more about the two groups, we built this platform where startups would pay a monthly subscription fee to have access to the candidates we pre-selected. It was 49€/month with an annual commitment and went up to 149€/month with no long-term commitment.


What’s your background and how did you come with Hello Tyro’s idea?

I had gone to the United States for my bachelor’s degree in economics. After graduating, I came back to Europe and Belgium to start my M.B.A. As we launched Hello Tyro during my studies and saw its potential and growth, I decided to drop out of school to fully focus on the company and give ourselves the best chance to succeed. Even if it ultimately failed, it is not a decision I regret one bit. So many learnings came out of this experience which I would have not gotten following the M.B.A.

The idea came as a new status was created for students in Belgium “Student entrepreneurs” which gave them more opportunities to work and make money from jobs. We had the conviction that some talented students could take on more challenging jobs in startups to develop new skills that could be very helpful for their future careers.

It was my very first entrepreneurial endeavor so I had no frame of reference when it came to launch and build this company from the ground up.

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How did you go from idea to product?

It took 2.5 years to get to the platform we liked but it was a very gradual process.

We first started doing everything by hand. Understanding the needs of startups and how they made decisions about recruiting an intern or not. Doing the same on the students’ side to understand their expectations and what they wanted in their user experience.

About a year in and lots of tests, we saw the opportunity of building a business with recurring revenues. As we had spent countless hours with both groups we had a great vision for what the platform should look like to create value for startups and students alike.

We started experimenting with platform alike features where we would cut the time we spent on certain tasks and automating a few.

Our v1 was a weekly email to startups with the CVs of the top 10% of students that we selected. We saw that this created as much value as the agency service and even gave more freedom to startups who could discover more students that we might have not introduced with our former way of working.

After this successful test, we decided to spend some time on no-code tools to create the first product. It was a shared Airtable view where startups could discover students on a better-looking platform and not in a simple email.

Then, we got close to the final version where we built the platform on Webflow and took subscriptions with Memberstack. Over the last 9 months, we added nice-to-have features such as the possibility to filter candidates, allow startups to send a crush to a student with one click and a few others.

Hello Tyro Landing Page

We ran into a ton of obstacles. The internship market is still very young in Belgium. Startups aren’t always aware of the value that can be created by talented students. It took lots of time to educate these startups to help them see what interns can bring when it comes to developing their business. To do so, we shared the stories of some students who had great results and where some ended up getting recruited for a job by these startups. 

We also had technical challenges where no-code tools would not allow us to deliver on some startups’ wishes in terms of features. We had to get creative and find a few smart hacks to reach these goals.

We didn’t have any big fancy launch but shared it within our existing networks and startups we knew in Belgium. We lacked expertise in distribution and I see it as one of the main reasons it failed in the end.

Pricing was always a challenging topic. Startups only really saw the value of our platform when they had successfully recruited an intern with Hello Tyro. Except that it could take some time so we had to spend extra time on new clients to help them find the talented student they were looking for as fast as possible.

The first thing we did for pricing was to launch the product as a free beta where some startups could test the product at no cost. After a while, we would chat with them to get their feedback on the experience and test a few different prices with them to see where we were at.

From their feedback, we implemented a few different prices on different engagement levels (annual, semester, and monthly) at 49, 99, and 149€.


Which were the strategies to grow your business?

We did a few different things as marketing goes. From paid ads, targeting on Linkedin, content creation (written and video), to word of mouth, we did it all. The only one that worked was WOM. The thing that made this channel work was that startups that enjoyed our service would talk to others about how great Hello Tyro was. It made our job of selling much easier with this kind of social proof. Prospects knew it worked directly from people who they trusted. It is what lacked with other marketing channels. They did not have the proof that the platform worked and they were more reluctant to make the jump and start paying for a service that can be pricey for up-and-coming startups who have limited funds.

Ultimately, selling is all about creating and nurturing a relationship with your prospect. Talking with them, asking questions, and showing a genuine interest in their problems are the best strategies to turn this connection into a paying customer. After doing so, you can say if your solution could help them, and selling it is easier than just via cold emails or marketing your solution without knowing the person you’re talking to.

With that in mind, we tried to connect directly on Linkedin and get the conversation going with our prospects. We did so even when they had no immediate interest in our product to acquire knowledge about the industry we were in, understand their finer problems when it came to recruiting interns. 

As for other strategies, we did a few mailing campaigns without any results. We collected tons of emails during these years and decided to launch in France during the summer of 2020. So we created our campaign and sent it out. It returned no results. Automated cold emails are great because you can be lazy. Draft your email, send it to 500+ contacts but it is not a suitable strategy for an early-stage product like we had. We needed more feedback from customers and prospects to pinpoint their needs and know where to press when marketing our solution.


When did things start to go in the wrong direction?

Covid making its entrance in March 2020 was the catalyzer to the underlying problem we had. We never experienced growth that showcased that we had the right solution. Our marketing strategies weren’t showing any really good results. We were already running low on money from our financing round. With the virus, everyone halted recruitment, our clients looked for ways to cut costs and we were first in line. We practically offered the product to our current customers for close to four months. The recruitment of interns is not an important part of a business (in most cases) and these startups had to deal, like us, with the impact of the virus on their business. Like them, we had to let go the rest of the team and allocate all of our efforts to the platform. Give it a final go if I may say so. Without much results evidently. We also had a conflictual relationship with our startup studio which made things even more difficult to handle.

Which were the causes of Hello Tyro’s failure?

As simple as it can, we did not have a Product-Market Fit. We just never found the model for which we felt this “exponential” growth which indicates that you’re onto something. We had some happy customers but selling the product was very hard. We did not have startups knocking on our door asking to use our platform. The reasons? Hard to say as there are so many factors. Was it the price of the subscription? Was it our commercial pitch? Hard to say as we did have to stop the company a bit earlier than we expected. The thing I learned from this is to never be satisfied with your results (revenues) and always test new things to improve your metrics.

We had to shut down because we ran out of cash and could not go on with the tools and the team in place. So we filed for bankruptcy.


Which were your expenses? Did you achieve any revenue? In the end, how much money did you lose?

We did not have a lot of expenses in the last few months. We were down to us two founders and were paying for the stack of no-code tools we used to build the platform. We probably could have gone on by investing a little bit of our own money to keep the platform running but we could not with our legal setup with the startup studio and investors who had joined.

At the very end, we were at €2K MRR, €1K in tools, and our founder’s salaries on top of that. We worked full time until the very end so we could not afford not getting compensation.

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

Keep testing and talk to more customers and prospects. We might have believed a bit too early that we had the right product. We could have learned more from our user base to identify the value we could have created for them, features they would have liked. 

Which are your favorite entrepreneurial resources?

I listen to a ton of podcasts around entrepreneurship and no-code in general. One of my favorite books is Company of one by Paul Jarvis. A great read to learn more about launching your one-person business and reach financial independence.


Where can we go to learn more?

You can read more about this story on my blog. You can also check how I validate startup ideas here.

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