2023 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: Bonocart, IESE Business School

Bonocart

IESE Business School

Industry: SaaS / ESG / Artificial Intelligence

Founding Student Name(s): Kofi Acquah

Brief Description of Solution: At Bonocart, we are building AI-powered SaaS for direct-to-consumer brands. This helps them boost customer loyalty and increase revenues, by transforming ESG initiatives into engaging customer experiences–with just a few clicks.

Funding Dollars: Non-equity financed by the European Social Fund and the State of Berlin

What led you to launch this venture? For several years before launching this venture, I had been very curious about ways to leverage technology for good. Since I was young, I’ve always loved building things, tinkering around with various ideas, and coding MVPs in my free time. While at IESE, I built a platform that leveraged fintech and blockchain technology to support social causes. From IESE, I moved to Berlin and started diving into its startup ecosystem. I met and ultimately started working with my co-founder, who has deep experience in the direct-to-consumer (D2C) space. After digging deeper into the problems of companies in the D2C space and recognizing shifts in consumer preferences towards purpose-driven brands, we identified an opportunity: helping brands grow customer lifetime value by supporting social causes that are core to their values.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? A big milestone for us was when we signed our first customer and could see them getting value from the initial product we built. It’s where the rubber met the road and helped validate our vision. Critically, it shortened our feedback loop, which helped us iterate quicker and win more customers.

What has been the most significant challenge you’ve faced in creating your company and how did you solve it? An ongoing challenge has been balancing operations and strategy. In the early days, most of our time was spent doing research, building our product, and thinking strategically. Once we started getting customers, the dynamic started to shift with new operational and support responsibilities: bugs to fix, questions to answer, and customer feedback to act upon. It’s an exciting and very dynamic new phase, and our solution to balance operations and strategy is constantly evolving. Some measures we’ve taken include automating repetitive manual tasks, such as our customer onboarding flows.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? IESE was incredibly valuable, as it served as a supportive and low-risk testing ground for starting a startup. Throughout my MBA journey, I worked on a startup project, building software in my free time. IESE allowed me to test and refine my founder-ability through startup competitions, VC introductions, and the many programs coordinated by the Startup & Entrepreneurship Club.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? I don’t believe in hero-worshiping founders and I wasn’t inspired to start a startup because of some other entrepreneur. It’s an intrinsic motivation to build something from scratch and see it grow.

With that said, a founder’s journey that I admire is Brian Chesky’s (co-founder of Airbnb). When they were bootstrapping in the early days, they managed to bridge themselves over financially by starting a side-hustle and selling boxes of breakfast cereal online, which earned them around $30k–just enough to stay afloat.

Founding a startup isn’t an easy or glorious journey, and the level of scrappiness they displayed is certainly inspiring. It’s motivated me to take the leap of faith and keep pushing forward.

Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? Managing Happiness, taught by Arthur Brooks.

While it’s not what many would consider a traditional business or entrepreneurial course, many of the challenges I deal with day-to-day are within my mind. There is a huge level of stress, anxiety, and uncertainty that comes along with building a startup. I really enjoyed both the research and practicality provided by the lessons, which shed light on what actually brings us joy and fulfillment in life. I learned that an important pillar for happiness is “purposeful work”, which gives me confidence that I am on the right track. Although building a startup isn’t easy, the sense of purpose I feel each day is unmatched.

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? While every professor has contributed to my development, I’d like to highlight and thank Mathieu Carenzo. I specifically remember a coffee chat we had, in which I was seeking advice on whether I should move to Berlin to join an Entrepreneur-in-Residence program at a top early-stage VC firm. I had already completed my course requirements one term before graduation. Nevertheless, the choice wasn’t easy, since it meant leaving Barcelona and cutting my IESE experience short. He nudged me towards following my passion and remembering that the IESE experience, relationships, and network extend well beyond graduation.

How has your local startup ecosystem contributed to your venture’s development and success? Berlin’s vibrant startup ecosystem has been a tremendous asset. It feels incredibly energetic and supportive, and within one year, I already feel very plugged into the network.

What is your long-term goal with your startup?  Our vision is to reshape digital commerce into a force for positive change, and support brands that are committed to advancing sustainability, urban development, and societal growth. Our long-term goal is to become the go-to platform for all types of digital merchants to create a positive social and environmental impact, in a way that also contributes to their growth.

DON’T MISS: MOST DISRUPTIVE MBA STARTUPS OF 2023

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.