The Trials and Successes of a SaaS startup with Dr Alex Backer

On Friday morning Alex shared with us a collection of stories and lessons learned from his own journey creating and developing “QLess”.  Below is a recap written by Brandon Burroughs.

            Alex was born and raised in Argentina, and while he was accepted into both MIT and Harvard early in his College career, his early college years were spent in Argentina. With some helpful pushes from his family, he eventually decided to attend MIT. Even though he was beyond the “late enrollee” period, they accepted him and he began pursuing his degree at MIT. This acceptance process beyond the late enrollee period illustrated one his first points that we shouldn’t always accept rules as they are given, but we should look beyond always “following the rules”. This was the first of 19 lessons Alex passed on. A summarized version of the others are below (But you should really watch the video to get the character and feeling behind the stories!).

Lesson 2: Never say no to an invitation to give a talk. You never know where it will take you and who you will meet.

Lesson 3: Don’t take money from anyone you wouldn’t take from your children. Don’t trust people just because they have the funding you are looking for. You are the best defender of your business so don’t trust too easily. Keep an advisory board that you trust.

Lesson 4: Create products you want to use. Alex shared how the idea of QLess came to him while waiting in line at Knott’s Berry Farm. The idea occurred to him that waiting in line is a huge waste of time, and he had a solution that would revolutionize the way many businesses and government entities are now addressing this problem.

Lesson 5: Don’t assume someone must have done it before. If you have an idea, pursue it!

Lesson 6: Starting a company is hard work. Make it worthwhile. Alex shared that the average American spends 2 years waiting in a line. The goal of his solution is to literally save years of peoples’ lives.

Lesson 7: Diversify until you have a winner. You never know which client/idea/project is going to be the right one so give yourself options.

Lesson 8: Go global. Don’t limit yourself to a local/regional market. If your idea is good, take advantage of the global reach that is now available.

Lesson 9: Whoever said it’s hard for startups to go after government customers? Some of QLess best clients are government entities, so don’t count them out of your potential customer base.

Lesson 10: It’s seldom too late. Alex shared the story of how they were late on a tight deadline and decided that the best option was to fly one of the sales reps out to hand-deliver the contract on-time. While it was an additional expense with no guaranteed return, they got the contract which would not have happened had they settled for, “we’re too late”.

Lesson 11: You’re never too small (Even for Texas). Even though Alex’ company was small at the time, their solution was a great fit for the state of Texas.

Lesson 12: Not too small to be crowned the best in America. Size doesn’t matter of the solution and execution is right.

Lesson 13: Put the company before yourself. Alex shared how for the success of the company he had to go without a salary for 8 years. While everyone doesn’t have that ability, the concept and follow-through of putting the company first is huge!

Lesson 14: Invest in redundancy: Alex shared how he wished he had shared more company knowledge within the organization among the staff. When a key employee transitioned out of the company, they were left in a position of lacking important company knowledge because there was not diversified knowledge share for that specific role.

Lesson 15: How to replace anyone: Use LinkedIn to target “people like” the candidates you are searching for!

Lesson 16: A lost deal is simply a deal waiting to be won. Patience and persistence pays off so don’t give up too early!

Lesson 17: Build tech that even non techies want to use. Usability for all consumer segments is crucial to enable mass adoption.

Lesson 18: You can do anything remotely. The SaaS industry has a huge advantage of being accessible from anywhere. Use this to your advantage in reaching new prospective clients and servicing existing clients!


Lastly, Alex shared with us Lesson 19- a poem entitled, “Don’t Quit” encouraging persistence and drive behind the challenges we face. QLess has had amazing success with 2,000% app download growth over the years and it has already eliminated 2,000 years of waiting in line. His story of success and persistence is absolutely an inspiration!




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