Momen Elshamy on launching a bootstrapped startup to compete with Canva

written by iryna prysyazhnuk

Momen Elshamy is a graphic designer and a founder of Premast – an Egypt-based startup that offers presentation design tools.

Premast was launched in August 2020, in the middle of a pandemic and uncertainty. Without any outside funding or government grants, by March 2021 startup is profitable.

IMB, Johnson&Johnson, and Volkswagen are among the clients.

Premast doesn’t have a crazy idea behind it that no one ever heard about before. Nor it has millions of dollars behind it, like WeWork.

Premast operates in a very competitive environment. The company offers presentation templates and customizable graphics on a subscription basis. Canva, Prezi, SlideShare are among the main competitors.

So how it all works?

How it all started.

Momen Elshamy has a background in design and years of experience working for LG Electronics and Axon Global Education Network.

However, he didn’t enjoy working for a big company and started freelancing using Upwork. The clients started to reach out to him, and that’s when he found an underserved market.

A large number of his clients from the US and Canada were requesting customized presentation designs. He learned, that clients wanted their presentations made in PowerPoint, not just PDF, so they can easily make necessary changes themselves.

The existing presentation design tools were either too complicated to use for a non-designer or didn’t offer designs that would stand out.

Premast helps users to design presentations that stand out effortlessly

From the marketplace to a startup.

To validate his idea, Elshamy has designed a presentation template in PowerPoint and put it out at a marketplace Envato.

He had already had several templates for social media out there, but one single Powerpoint template turned out to be a gamechanger. It was downloaded so many times, Elshamy instantly knew there was a need for that product. By that time he had so many clients from his freelancing, that he had hired two other designers to help him out.

In March 2018 Elshamy started to prepare a launch of his own company. His team started adding Powerpoint templates to the marketplace account on a weekly basis. He came up with the future company’s name and created the first landing page.

In early 2019, Elshamy realized he wanted not only to give people templates to download but the tools to customize the design in the easiest possible way. He personally is a fan of Canva and wanted to create a tool that will focus on a user-friendly and very easy presentation design.

How did the pandemic affect startup launch?

Before launching Premast as a startup, Elshamy worked on its brand selling templates via the marketplace. However, he always had in mind a bigger picture and was working towards launching his own project. The team started with just a landing page and was planning on a startup launch when COVID-19 changes everything.

“The start of the pandemic was very hard for us. We started to work from home, and we were not ready for this. We had a hard time meeting the deadlines,” explained Elshamy.

Elshamy and the team had a hard decision to make – to launch despite the disrupting pandemic or postpone until the next year?

He decided to launch.

“I just had a feeling, if we postpone a launch to the next year we might not be able to hold until the next year,” said Elshamy.

“We needed something to push ourselves, to give us the power to continue.”

Premast launched and, as many businesses during COVID-19, pivoted.

Elshamy discovered the need for presentation templates completely new field – education. He noticed that with the universities going all remote, more and more educators were looking for an easy way to create engaging presentations.

Today the educational templates are one of the most downloaded at Premast.

How did you become profitable?

When speaking of the financial part of the company, Elshamy is very clear – he bootstrapped the startup and uses the profits to re-invest and expand his team.

Currently, Premast employs 20 people and has a business unit, a large design team, who works on UX and UI and presentation design team, who creates new PowerPoint templates.

“I analyzed and researched everything – how much money each presentation cost me, what is the cost of my customer acquisition, what templates are the most popular, and what is not working so great,” explained the founder.

“We are very focused on analyzing expenses and immediately shutting down the things that won’t work for us. We are a profit-oriented startup”, said Elshamy

Premast has a free and a paid plan. The plus plan costs $10 per month. It gives customers access to all the premium templates, graphics and includes multiple brand kits.

Elshamy on how the company set up pricing for its product.

Just after its launch in August 2020, Premast gained over 12,000 users in just 6 months.

The key to staying competitive on the market – constantly testing new features, making a platform faster an and adding

“The biggest challenge for us now – to keep up with the customer demand and innovate as fast at it’s possible. We’re working on the templates for Google slides now, as the customers keep asking for them,” said Elshamy.

The most important advice?

Elshany highlights that he wouldn’t go this far without his team.

Elshamy on the most important lesson learned from the pandemic

He adds, that to win a team a founder needs to help them grow and learn. The founder should educate them on every aspect of the startup, including the budget. Also, the founder needs to identify the role of every team member and what kind of work they’re expected to do.

5 ways to validate your startup idea without leaving your home

startup ideas need feedback
Written by Iryna Prysyazhnuk

Do you have a startup idea?

Before launching any kind of startup you probably will do a lot of research. Actually, you should do it!

Different founders and mentors would advise on taking different approaches to find co-founders, teammates, and approaching investors, but there’s one thing they all agree on.

Before starting to put your time and money into anything, validate your idea! 

Idea validation is the most crucial step, as mentioned by George Burke and Ammar Akhtar.

If you have a great personal network in a startup community, probably you’re able to validate your idea just by asking a couple of questions on your LinkedIn or Twitter. You will get some answers and possibly can follow up, and get some sort of feedback.

If you’ve been working with startups for years, you probably have a good personal network to interview your potential target audience even by phone or Zoom.

But what if you’re the first-time founder and not well immersed in a startup community yet? 

Here are some ways you get feedback on your ideas:

  1. Facebook Groups.

Join startup and entrepreneurship groups either in a global community or specific for your county. After you get approved by the admin, you have an opportunity to create a post. Share your idea and validate it through comments and engage in discussions.

Pros:

  • easy to post and doesn’t require extra registration (who doesn’t have a Facebook profile!)
  • you can post the same question in different groups and gather over 100 comments of feedback in a short period of time
  • you can connect with users who left comments and ask them for an interview or personal feedback

Cons:

  • once posted, your post stays on top only for a short period of time
  • groups have lots of spam
  • you can’t filter the relevant audience if your idea targets a specific niche/market
  • groups are not always easy to find

    Discord for startups
    Discord channels can help startups to validate their ideas

2. Discord

Discord traditionally has been a community for gamers, so if your product or service targets this audience- it’s your choice #1!  However, even if your idea is not around gaming, you can find the communities of web developers, designers, entrepreneurs, and marketers who would be able to provide feedback. Join servers that such as Unscripted StartupsProjectium.Network and Startups & Entrepreneurship.

Pros:

  • you can easily find a niche community to pitch your idea to
  • users are responsive and helpful

Cons:

  • users often don’t use real names, so it’s hard to understand who they are and what is their expertise
  • Discord highly discourages  links to other websites and platforms, if you want to test MVP
  • Discord doesn’t support threads, so comments for your idea would be scattered and might not be seen by a lot of people
  • Groups for startups are relatively small in size (less than 2k)

3. Reddit 

Reddit is known for everything but idea validation, but some entrepreneurs do post their business questions in relevant subreddits. If you’re willing to give it a try, Reddit threads such as r/startupsr/startup and r/Startup_Ideas  and r/EntrepreneurRideAlong can be helpful.

Pros:

  • very large and active community
  • people can upvote for your discussions and you’ll get over 100 comments with feedback
  • some founder report Reddit as a good source for getting feedback fast

Cons:

  • anonymity means you don’t know anything about the users giving you feedback  – are they even your target audience?
  • comments are not always relevant, people would promote their services in popular posts
  • if your idea doesn’t get upvoted, you will have just a few comments

    Reddit for startups
    Some users use Reddit to start with the idea validation

4. Specialized platforms – IndieHackers & Projectium 

If you familiarizing yourself with a startup world, you have probably heard of those two platforms. The biggest difference between those platforms –  is that they’re not a one-time deal. You’re able to create your project and build a community around it. You’re able to ask for feedback for your idea and it won’t get lost in the sea of other messages.

Let’s take a closer look.

Indiehackers is a community focused on inspiring you to start a profitable business, turn your side hustle into a main source of income and grow your company.

Pros:

  • large community with active members
  • a well-designed platform, where you can create both a personal profile and a project
  • has lots of interviews and podcasts, sometimes it’s easy to get lost

Cons:

  • a large community means that getting attention for your project is harder
  • not specifically focused on startups only, tho has a lot of projects in the industry
  • text-heavy

Projectium focuses on early-stage startups and providing a community for founders, contributors, and early adopters.

Pros:

  • a community tailored to the needs of startup founders, contributors, and early adopters
  • the platform lets you keep your project “live” and create a community around it
  • interactive cards feature of the platform let you gather all your project’s information in just one place and present it as a portfolio
  • the platform is new so getting noticed and receiving feedback is easier
  • lots of options for visual representation

Cons:

  • the platform is new and is in a beta-testing version right now
  • the community doesn’t have a very large number of users just yet

5. LinkedIn

If you managed to build a strong personal network, then you might want to run a series of polls asking questions to validate your startup idea. You might not even ask directly, but try to understand the “pain points” of your audience and its needs.

Pros:

  • easy – posting a poll takes just a minute
  • no need to create a profile, most likely you already have one (if no, you definitely should!)

Cons:

  • you have to have a large personal network, preferably over 1,000 people
  • you will likely get feedback from people who are not your target audience
  • your poll might will get lost in your other posts

No matter what idea validation path you will take, remember to make sure you’re getting feedback from your target audience, not just random people.

How much feedback do I need to get?

The simple answer – the more the better, but around 100 people should be your goal. Don’t be afraid to follow up with those people answering your polls and providing you with short answers. If they’re your future audience, ask for a 15-minute call and try to learn more about their needs, problems, and challenges they face.

Idea validation would definitely take time, but this is the crucial step in building your startup, take it very seriously.