Tech enthusiast and man of many talents, Chris Bruchhausen is the founder & CEO at Strove - an activity-based mobile rewards application that empowers organisations to inspire their employees, clients and members to live a healthy and active life. No stranger to the benefits of an active lifestyle himself, he is a high-level triathlete and Ironman competitor.
Chris shares, “We built Strove as a platform that we are offering to companies with the primary purpose of helping them improve the physical and mental well-being of their staff. The idea was born a couple of months into COVID, when we realized that there was going to be increasing pressure placed on employers to make sure that they were taking care of the physical and mental well-being of their employees. Given the work environment that we find ourselves in with people working from home, there’s no real distinction between work and personal life anymore. Generally, for the most part, people kind of deprioritised taking care of their well-being. Obviously, that has a bunch of spillover effects at a company level. What we tried to do is offer a product to companies that they, in turn, can offer to their employees that attempts to drive them towards the right kind of lifestyle behaviour on both the physical and mental fronts.”
With two major partners, one being The Delta which is a venture builder, Chris was able to take Strove very swiftly from the idea phase into commercialisation. He shares, “That touches on a variety of things - everything from software development to product management to marketing to growth. There's a variety of things that come with that. So it really helps you to fast-track taking a product to market and commercialising a product. To try and hire software engineers and a whole team and convince people to leave their existing companies to join a start-up without even having a product in the market would have been incredibly difficult. So the easiest route for us to go was to partner with a company like The Delta.” This helped him to make headway in a very short period of time.
The other mutually beneficial partnership that Chris struck up was with YoYo, integrating the solution onto their platform. Sometimes entrepreneurs are hesitant to share their ideas with others, arguing that there will be more financial rewards later down the line if they were to build it out internally within their team. On this topic, Chris says, “It generally takes an army to build a start-up from scratch. So, to take the approach of keeping everything to yourself is probably not the best way to go. But, with that being said, you obviously don't just want to go and tell every person on the street about the business that you're wanting to build, because it is possible that you tell someone who has the capability to go and build that business themselves. You really need to use your own judgement. I do think that partnering with people or companies that could enable you both as a person and as a business to create a lot of leverage, is a favourable route to go.”
“For instance, there are a number of companies now with a primary product in the market that is just infrastructure and API’s (Application Programming Interfaces). So you can go and partner with these companies and take off-the-shelf products and integrate them with your product and set up a fintech business in a matter of weeks, as opposed to having to build out a complete infrastructure yourself. So that's what we did with YoYo. They've got a rewards issuing and redemption engine that we integrated with, and it enabled us to offer rewards to our users from a whole bunch of different retailers and merchants based in South Africa.”
Recently having raised four million rands in a seed-funding round to scale the company, the inevitable questions come up - what funding do you need to seek out? And at what point? Chris remarks, “It depends on the kind of business that you're trying to build. If you're building a software product, for the most part, you can probably bootstrap at least until the MVP stage. If you don’t have the ability to do that, I don't think it's worthwhile going and raising capital before you've got a functional product in the market. If you don't have a product, it’s going to be very difficult to raise money. And if you are able to raise money, you're going to be giving away a lot more of your business upfront.” Furthermore, Chris highlights that raising capital takes an immense amount of time out from your day - as you constantly speak to investors.
On the topic of figuring out how much money to raise, he notes that you’re putting together a large amount of data, collaborating financial forecasts and so on. “In my opinion,” he says, “If you're doing a seed round of funding, try and plan to at least have the capital for one-and-a-half to two years, and then, at the end of that period, you’re going to look into a series A round of funding. I think that timeframe format gives you enough time to integrate and really push your focus onto your business for 12-14 months.”
Along with that, it is also important to validate what you are busy with. “Early validation is super powerful,” Chris states, “And by that, I mean building a product, and getting people to pay for it. As soon as someone is willing to pay for your product, that’s a ton of validation in and of itself. Especially on the B2B side of things it generally takes a lot longer to get a client on board and to get them actually paying for your product.”
In Chris’ view, there is no step-by-step methodology or science to starting a business.“Every business is so unique. But there are obviously common themes amongst all the different businesses. One is making sure that you hire the right people internally, especially at the early stages. The first 10 employees that you bring on board will shape the culture of your company for the foreseeable future. So it's really important that you make sure that you bring the right team on board. In conjunction with that, if you’re going to raise capital making sure that you bring the right investors on board. If you bring in an investor who isn't aligned with the vision of the company and is going to be difficult to work with, it’s going to make things far harder for you because you’re going to have someone breathing down your neck all the time, trying to dictate how you should run the business. I would say that the focus needs to be on the people and making sure that you're bringing the right people on board - and everything will kind of flow off the back of that.”
When asked if he feels his age is a factor that works out in his favour, Chris says that he believes that it does give him an edge: “For the most part, I would say it's an advantage. Maybe not necessarily in the eyes of other people, but from my own personal perspective. At my age, we generally have less life responsibilities, so we can focus entirely on just building the company. Someone who may be a little bit older and has a family has obviously got other responsibilities.” Along with perhaps fewer life responsibilities, he says, “I think some people would have a preference for working with younger people because you bring in a younger energy, you’re willing to work long hours. A bunch of positive traits come with that.”
With the youthful energy, Chris highlights how other life experiences can translate into entrepreneurship - drawing on his mental fortitude in endurance sports “If you've learned how to really push yourself for an extended period of time, being super, super uncomfortable on a physical level, your ability to withstand some level of discomfort will be translated into business. Obviously, you would never ever experience that level of discomfort sitting at your desk, but a similar principle and concept applies - especially when you are constantly feeling like it’s an uphill battle.”
For those who are excited to define their own life goals and start a successful business, identifying the right niches, understanding when to seek funding and how to go about that, along with being able to validate your products/services becomes invaluable. This is where the USB-ED Young Minds Programme comes in. This programme is tailored to help you create your own career opportunities, with guided life direction, while equipping you with the necessary business skills required to become a highly successful entrepreneur. To find out more about this programme, click here.
To watch the full interview with Chris Bruchhausen, click here.