What makes or breaks a startup? How can you produce a million dollar idea? What’s the biggest secret to a successful venture?
I asked Igor Shoifot, a successful Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur, to share some useful tips for young startupers. Igor likes to call himself a “viral gardener of purely organic dreams.” So far he’s started over a dozen companies, so he knows a bit about the subject.
Igor’s resume? His 12 start-ups include http://www.Fotki.com, the largest indy photo site (5-10M users, 2B photos), as well as profitable ventures in games, education, VOD, VoIP and publishing. Igor was also CEO of Microsoft WebTV’s largest portal, EpsylonGames (6% of WebTV traffic). He founded and sold “vInternship” to Manhattan Institute. Together with TMT Investments Fund’s team, he invested in Wanelo, Backblaze, Wrike, ShareThis, Gild, and many others. He is also Chairman of the Board of Happy Farm incubator, teaches at UC Berkley and University of San Francisco, and is a shareholder in 50 other startups.
Igor thinks there are too many skeptics around. “They all ask in disbelief – ‘What, you created a startup? Why would you bother?’ and want to go surfing instead.”
“To become successful,” says Igor, “you need to find a balance between ignoring skeptics and listening to experts.”
There are entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs, and that the reality of life. You need to listen to those who know what they’ve done. You need to understand first what a person is doing, before you follow his or her advice.
So, here is Igor’s expert advice:
1) Focus: You need to maintain extreme focus to deliver a quality product. There are always unsuccessful inventors and innovators who can’t bring their ideas to market. Microblogging, for example – many people assert that Twitter invented it. It didn’t, but it succeeded because its team was obsessed with their unique approach to going viral.
2) Growth: “If you can’t clearly define how you’re going to advance your products and grow, or what you’re going to do when you get the money, you don’t have a chance,” Igor says. It’s true: many young startupers believe that you just need to come up with a brilliant product, and that’s all. They ignore the basics of marketing and supply and demand.
Igor uses the example of YouTube: “At the beginning, this was a terrible product. It crashed all the time. Others, like Vimeo, Dailymotion and Veoh, for example, were technically stronger, but YouTube succeeded because their team worked 24/7 and came up with tags, videochannels, profiles, categories, other products. In other words – they worked for the client.”
“Let me repeat,” he says. “Winners are those who focus on growth. I have yet to see any startup team that did not succeed after hard work and mega promotion.” That’s encouraging, isn’t it?
3) Create an amazing team: This is always important in business, but especially so for startups. Igor laughed: “In the classic action movies of the 1970s, the good guys go out and get the best team, and then blast the bad guys. You need to do this too!”
Hire star employees. But what’s a star employee? For Igor, it’s not the resume – that’s just the starting point. It’s what they can do for you, and how motivated they are. Igor says for startups, you need to hire three specific “monsters”:
- Technology Monster
- Design Monster
- Sales Monster
4) Plan an exit strategy from the start: Consider when and to whom you’ll sell your company. Don’t focus only on making money, but on fitting into a needed niche in the industry. Igor pointed out that it’s very difficult to sell even the most successful company. If major industry players already have a similar solution, they won’t bite. Focusing on the eventual sale will shape your company strategy from the very start.
So, next time the skeptics knock on your door, or in your head, look to those with experience and success. Remember to focus, plan for growth, build the right team, and consider your venture’s exit strategy.
Igor Shoifot isThe Dude at TMT Investments, Chairman at Happy Farm Incubator, co-founder at Fotki, adjunct at Berkeley, UCSF. Learn more about Igor here.
Andrey Gidaspov is a published author, international business expert, and a passionate “dot connector.” He is passionate about connecting people and ideas, creating new social ventures and helping non-profits find new funding streams. Follow him on Twitter (@AndreyGidaspov) and check out his blog (www.gidaspov.com) for more useful tips on creativity, fundraising and marketing.