From Prototype to Successful Start-Up
“I want to be a founder” – the first sentence of Giorgi Khubua’s motivational letter. A 25-year-old TUM School of Management graduate from Georgia, who leveraged Think.Make.Start. to co-found the SOLOS Mirror, a digital fitness mirror designed to show instant real-time feedback to the user on the mirror surface. After only three short years, Giorgi and his team were able to successfully sell their idea to an industry player.
From Wooden Prototype to Successful Start-Up
“I already knew the Technical University of Munich as ‘The Entrepreneurial University’. That was one of the main reasons I wanted to study there”, says Giorgi. He explains that he focused on his studies but kept the idea of founding his own company in mind. The lecture “Innovative Entrepreneurs” brought the topic back into focus: “In the course of the seminar, we had the opportunity to meet founders personally, who shared their stories and experience with us. For me, these personal stories were a pure inspiration.” In 2016, Giorgi participated in an interdisciplinary summer seminar: “Think.Make.Start.” – organized by TUM and the entrepreneurship center UnternehmerTUM. The task was to develop an idea into a functional prototype within two weeks. With his team colleagues from TUM, Giorgi developed an idea for a “smart mirror”.
Based on the feedback they received from potential customers and numerous interviews, the team had the idea to refine the mirror for the fitness segment, which is how the idea for the SOLOS Mirror was born. A digital fitness mirror that measures the body movements from the distance, gives feedback and displays the results on the surface. With this refined prototype, the team won the Think.Make.Start “Start Prize” and received further support from UnternehmerTUM and the TechFounders Accelerator program.
“We were very enthusiastic! We received mentorship, office space, and financial help for five months. TechFounders is one of the best programs and we wanted to exploit this opportunity to the full.” Highly motivated by these first successes, the team continued to work on their project and ended-up exhibiting it at the ISPO – the world’s largest sports trade show. There, they won the “ISPO Brand-New Award 2017”. After the ISPO, the team exhibited the SOLOS Mirror at FIBO, the world’s largest fitness trade show. After further success stories, the team sold their company in early 2020. “I remember, when I signed the contract, I immediately felt 150 kg lighter. All of a sudden, all that pressure and responsibility fell off me. The most exhausting thing about a start-up is the responsibility and constant pressure to solve problems. But at the same time it gives you a great motivation not to give up and to push forward – this is in fact an amazing feeling”, remembers Giorgi.
Optimal Opportunities Provided by TUM School of Management
Giorgi says his studies and the conditions provided by the TUM School of Management played a decisive role in his journey. “TUM really offers optimal conditions for young entrepreneurs,” he says. “Students at the TUM School of Management have unique opportunities with the resources and network that the university provides. It’s only a matter of taking advantage of them!” Giorgi describes it as a bridge between the university and the start-up world. “As a student, you can just try realizing your idea, because even if it doesn’t work out, the experience you gain is extremely valuable”. He also says that he gained valuable interdisciplinary experience in seminars like Think.Make.Start. “During the seminar, I learned how differently students from other faculties think. Everyone has their own know-how, but the consensus is extremely important when working on a project together as a team. This has been a very enriching experience”.
Sharing His Experience with Aspiring Students and Entrepreneurs
Giorgi is now involved in several accelerator and incubator programs, giving lectures and workshops, and sharing his experience with young entrepreneurs. “There are mistakes that can be avoided and in some places, a hint might have saved me from making these mistakes myself. I would like to pass that knowledge on”. Giorgi emphasizes what founders need most in his experience: stamina, objectivity, and a logical approach to things. He also shares the following experience to make prospective founders aware of potential mistakes: “During the first pilot project, we mostly talked with end-users, i.e. members in fitness studios, but in my opinion not sufficiently with fitness managers and trainers. This first strategic mistake came to our attention at FIBO where we finally did talk to a lot of managers and trainers and noticed that the functionality of our product is clear but might be difficult to implement in practice. An important homework for entrepreneurs is therefore to know the market and its psychology very well, to ask different stakeholders, and to analyze their needs. This is the only way to find out whether your product really makes sense for the market, the so-called product-market-fit is extremely important”, he explains. “As the founder, you are of course always biased towards your own product and you may interpret feedback a little more positive than it actually is. You are enthusiastic about the product yourself, and you expect everyone else to be just as enthusiastic! This makes it all the more important to be prepared for critical feedback and to analyze it objectively.”
He also stresses how important it is to have the right team: “I would rather go bankrupt together with a great team than celebrate successes in a bad team. Trust and transparency are essential. There are times when it seems as if all problems arise at once and nothing works anymore. That’s when it’s all the more important to remain a strong team and overcome challenges together.”
Following the successful sale of SOLOS Mirrors, Giorgi is certain: “I will definitely found another company again in the future”.
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