Braci is an award-winning smart ear device which listens to surrounding sounds to convert into visual and sensory alerts. We caught up with Pharmacist turned entrepreneur, Juma El-awaisi, cofounder of Braci to hear about his startup journey.
What were you up to before Braci?
Just before we started with Braci, me and my two cofounders were a part of a middle-eastern TV programme which funds new products and ideas for marketplaces. It was a really great opportunity and helped us focus on building a prototype for the product, designing it, engineering it and then marketing it. After the programme, we all decided to come together and start Braci.
How long did it take you realise you were ready to go full-time with Braci? Were there any fears when making this decision?
We came to the UK through another programme which was sponsored by UKTI. Once we got accepted, we had to make a decision, either we all went full-time or none of us went full-time and the programme required us all to be there for the duration of the run. We decided to leave what we were doing and focus all of our energy on Braci.
How do you define the impact of the company?
Once we started doing some research into the different working applications of the product, we were able to understand what the impact could be for our beneficiaries. We started focusing on how to ensure people’s safety, security and comfort with the product. That was the main goal initially and how to address problems of those with hearing impairments.
What is the best way to secure users when you’re starting out?
We tried to find people who were creating products similar to ours and what they were doing with selling their products. We started contacting city councils who support deaf and hard of hearing who would be interested in our product then we started identifying different streams to market the product.
How do you tackle competition as a new startup?
The most important thing is to find your unique selling point and promote that as much as possible. Try and go to market as soon as possible even if you don’t have the entire product ready. Launch something, get feedback and see how it goes.
What would you say to entrepreneurs that are looking for a cofounder?
I would say that your co-founders are the most important asset in your startup because they’re the ones that are going to be there at the end of the company. It’s important to not be such close friends in the beginning as starting a company together may impact the friendship but ensure everyone brings different skills and the right skills for the startup. We all came from different backgrounds, tech side, design side and business side and that helped us all establish what we needed to start off with.
How did you and your co-founders come together and decide how to distribute equity amongst each other?
We started off without discussing this, as it is a sensitive conversation so we didn’t go into it earlier on. Once we decided to go full-time with the project, we also decided to live together in the same house and work from there. That broke a lot of barriers because Anwar and Amr knew each other quite well and this allowed me a chance to get to know them on a very personal level. It worked really well and it made it easier to get things done and have conversations like these. If we wanted to discuss something we were all right there but we also ensured everyone had individual space too.
What are your thoughts on bootstrapping VS raising seed capital?
Even if you raise seed capital you should definitely bootstrap as you don’t know what expenses are going to hit the company. There are always unexpected costs and you don’t know what your sales will be like.
When is the right time to start fundraising? The obvious choice would be when a startup runs out of capital but what other factors should be taken into consideration?
You have to make sure that the very minimum that you do is build a product that works. If there is enough potential, and you’ve reached a plateau stage and you’re achieving things but not big things then that tends to be a good indicator. We reached a stage like that during Braci, we were going to various organisation but we weren’t seeing any increase in value on a month-to-month basis so we started to raise funds to grow.
Every month that passes by in a company and you have not increased the value of the company since the last month then that is time wasted. Also make sure you raise funds if you’re going to use the funds to spend on something specific. You can’t just say you need money but don’t know what you will use the money for.
What has your fundraising experience been like?
Fundraising is a very hectic experience. The first time we raised funds we got lucky, it was much earlier on when we had the idea and had won a competition in Finland and one of the judges from the panel decided he wanted to invest in us. Our second round of fundraising was tough. We started going to pitching events and connecting with investors and did what other startups would do. We realised then that this in itself wouldn’t work because investors like to see progress and growth. So we stopped fundraising for a while and relied on grants and award money and during that time we kept regularly emailing our investor contact list and updated them on a monthly basis to let them know if we were hitting our targets or not. That really helped us close the round as they started trusting us and they knew we would do what we were saying.
A lot of entrepreneurs go through an emotional rollercoaster when building their startup. What is the best way to tackle the days when things might not be going right?
The day you start a company you’re taking a risk and obviously your brain isn’t taking the risk without evaluating it thoroughly. But just make sure you motivate yourself every day because some days you wake up and question why you quit your job for “this” but when you realise the risk is worth taking then that keeps you going.
What do you wish you knew when you started your journey that you know today?
Time is very important in a startup, every single day. If another company comes out with a product similar to yours and starts competing with yours then the value or time you had ahead gets disrupted and big corporates with big budgets can do that so it’s important to be prepared.
What I wish I knew was correct task management and have goals/strategy for every single month.
Any last words of advice for young and aspiring entrepreneurs?
Others might be able to see what you’re trying to do and others might be putting you down even though you see that there is a right market for your product. Just make sure that you give it your best and don’t give up.