Founders’ Insights: On Starting a Company

Over the last couple of weeks I have met a number of founders. I decided to ask all of them the same questions to help me on my journey. I would now like to share their advice with you. 

The most recent event has been organised by SVIP and was the first in the monthly series of ‘Meet a Founder’. Its a fireside chat style interview with a large focus on Q&A from the audience (us, the interns) at the end, giving us a chance to pick the brains of the founder.

First I asked Steve Flavell (LoopUp) about traits a founder needs to possess. Here is a summary:

  • You have to be willing to do everything
  • You have to enjoy variety (since you will be doing so many things)
  • You have to be comfortable with uncertainty since you will never know everything you need

Michael Hughes (LoopUp & SVIP), who was interviewing Steve, at this point added:

  • If you have a co-founder, you need to have process for handling disagreement. This is more important than the skill set itself.

My second questions was about what steps would Steve take right now to start a new company. Here is what he would focus on:

  • Finding a partner to approach the adventure of a startup with
  • Not expecting to earn money in the beginning
  • Raising 18 months of cost funding money. The last thing you want to do is trying to raise money at the end of your first year, when you have no revenue. It is better to secure this upfront. 
  • Intellectual property and working with a patent lawyer. You will get the patent claims wrong otherwise.

This next founder was very charismatic and was not afraid to invade my personal space. I asked Francis Pedraza (Everest) about what advice he would give to a young entrepreneur who is trying to start his own company. The first thing he said was “Just start it.

He then went on to ask me what my idea was. I explained and he followed up with a few prodding questions.

  • How much would you be willing to pay for this product? $5 a month? That’s not a lot.
  • How many people would need to think that in order for it to become a valuable business?

He explained that life asks you 3 questions: what do you value? How do you express that? How much are you willing to pay for it?

When dating a girl you may think she’s cute. So somehow you think she’s valuable. You then may buy her dinner or write her a poem. But are you willing to marry her? Are you willing to be financially tied to her? Probably not.

In business its the same. You have to date the idea first before marry it.

By their nature all business are contrarian. If people thought something was good idea they would do it already. Therefore you are saying to everyone else that they are wrong. And people usually think that it won’t work…until it does.

What do you find valuable? Find that thing that you feel so strong about that you are willing to go through hell for.

I enjoyed speaking with Francis very much and found it refreshing! He was quite inspirational, which is fitting for a founder of a company that helps you live your dreams and achieve personal goals.

The final founder is Elon Musk (Tesla). During his fire side chat I got a feeling that Elon wasn’t an ‘entrepreneur’. This guy didn’t do what he was told. He did what he wanted. And what he wanted to do was to solve some big problems.

I consider myself very luck to have been able to speak with him personally. I asked him about what advice he would give to young entrepreneurs trying to start their own companies. He said:

  • Look at problems from first principles
  • Don’t go by analogy. We live by analogies but they are inaccurate. When you are trying to solve a completely new problem, there is no analogy.
  • Always ask for feedback, especially try to get negative feedback. It may or may not be right but you need to hear it.

I am considering pursuing an MBA at Stanford so it was also interesting to hear him say in a hushed voice to a much younger boy that he should study engineering and not MBA or finance!

Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) ENCORE Awards was the event that me and a few other SVIP guys were very fortunate to attend . If you follow the link you can watch the recording. Additionally if you would like to read about the event from a rather different point of view, definitively check out Chris Howard’s blog post.

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