Sunday, February 10, 2013

Mentor in The Room

An Interview with WIM

27TH JAN 2013
What’s the worst mistake a founder can make?
Many potential answers to this! Obviously this is situation dependent. But here’s one generic mistake: “following advice rather than taking advice.” Point being that founders can get deluged with advice - from peers, mentors, advisors etc. All is well intentioned BUT in my view founders need to listen, absorb, process and then use that advice as they judge best based on their circumstances and goals. Hence TAKE advice, don’t just blindly FOLLOW it.
What’s the most common Startup error?
I can’t claim to be able to answer this question convincingly either. But again errors at the business level are many and varied and depend on the specific context. What might be a dumb marketing move for one business say might be smart for another. Ironically, given the next question, as a recent Venture Beat article pointed out: “the most likely reason for startup failure is premature scaling.” Their conclusion: “Don’t invest in entrepreneurs that get ahead of themselves!”
What does “fail fast” mean to you?
If you haven’t done it already read “The Lean Start Up” by Eric Ries. He knows more about this than most people so gives a much better answer than I can. Or, if you want a pithy answer listen to Mark Zuckerberg who says: “Stay focused and keep shipping”.
If you could fix one thing in the startup eco-system right now, what would it be?
If we are talking about the NYC eco-system then … it seems in pretty good shape. However it still lacks the breadth and depth of financing for entrepreneurs that the Valley has. So, if I had a magic wand, I would conjure but some big money exits and seed the NYC system with many more cashed out entrepreneurs and others investors eager to recycle that capital back into the local start up world.
What should startups be focusing on in 2013?
What they focused on in 2012, 2011 - indeed since time immemorial. Namely - applying their energy and passion to an innovative solution to a real world problem. And delivering that solution with stellar execution.
When’s the right time to seek funding?
Mmmm, so many hard questions! First point would be that securing “money from strangers” provides benefits but also alters the balance in your business. So if you can achieve what you want by bootstrapping, maybe having some ancillary way of generating cash, then don’t rush out and get funded just because it seems cool. Founders need to remember in particular that once they have a Board they don’t just have a formal judge and jury watching over them … they also have a potential executioner. (Read Noam Wasserman’s Harvard Business Review article on the Founder’s Dilemma and work out where you stand … although perhaps best to re-gender the “Do you want to be Rich or do you want to be King” question.) Other than than other tips would be a) raise money in good time ie know your runway and act well in advance of falling off it b) take it when it’s available, you never know when funding might be harder to come by.
Thoughts on crowd-funding?
Personally I am wary because I think the erosion of investor protections inherent is dangerous. It is clear that, one assumes for the same reasons, the SEC is going to be slow (they already missed the year end deadline) on rule making because they have similar concerns. So, don’t count on this as way to raise money in 2013.
Best advice you’ve ever gotten?
You’re never as good as people think you are when you’re winning and never as bad as people think you are when you’re losing.
Guess who’s coming for dinner…who would be your dream dinner guest(s) and why?
As a Brit (dual national now!) I would love to have dinner with a younger (she is now 87 and failing) Mrs Thatcher. While controversial in many ways she saved the country from what seemed like irreversible decline. Also she famously said:  “If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.”

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