10 Lessons on How to Be a Smart Startup Founder from Vitaly Golomb, Investor & Global Startup Evangelist


Vitaly Golomb is a Silicon Valley-based investor, serial entrepreneur, keynote speaker, and acclaimed designer. He leads investments at HP Tech Ventures, the corporate venture arm of Silicon Valley’s original startup. Vitaly is also a contributing writer to TechCrunch and author of the upcoming book: Accelerated Startup – The New Business School.

Prior to joining HP Tech Ventures, Vitaly took three companies from idea to exit. One of them wasKeen Systems (Acquired by Aleyant), an award-winning e-commerce software company, the mastermind behind the award-winning “Print is Big” campaign. Vitaly was also the Executive Producer of the Startup AddVenture conference across seven countries.

He has served as an advisor, consultant, and board member to a number of companies, including: Rimac Automobili (world’s fastest electric car), Breathometer (SharkTank), Zite (Acquired by CNN), Topicmarks (Acquired by Tagged), NewsBasis (Acquired by PR Newswire), SpeedDate.com (Acquired by IAC), among others.

Vitaly grew up in Cupertino and has been involved with startups since his teenage years. He holds a degree in Computer and Video Imaging and has guest lectured at Stanford, UC Berkeley, St. Mary’s and other universities around the world on entrepreneurship, innovation, and design. He is passionate about improving society by nurturing entrepreneurship, travels to over 20 countries every year as a keynote speaker, and is a consistently a top-ranked mentor at a number of startup accelerator programs in the US, Europe, and Asia. Besides, he consults and teaches workshops to the next generation of entrepreneurs, as well as enterprises and governments fostering innovation.

Vitaly will be joining us as a speaker at How to Web Conference 2016. Besides that, however, he kindly agreed to  share his experience on how startups can work with big companies, how you can act smart to benefit your startup, intrapreneurship in large companies and other hot topics. If you’re on the go, just click on each excerpt below to listen to Vitaly’s answers.

  1. Startups provide leadership for large companies with their “beginner’s mind” approach to solving problems.

Large companies were startups too at some point. As new technologies appear, it’s difficult for them to just give up their old business model. This is where disruption comes into play – small companies disrupt old business models with new ones and they grow into enterprises themselves or get acquired.

Large companies go out there and do research, but startups are the ones that actually implement with a “beginner’s mind”. They’re not limited by biases and can solve problems with a fresh mind. This is their advantage. Hence large companies are actually learning from the smaller ones and the leadership that the latter provide.

  1. Gather intelligence from your market and learn how to provide value to a large company before approaching them.

Startups should approach large companies if a collaboration serves their goal, but corporate venture arms can help too by providing a path to market. Startups should learn how to provide value to large companies before they approach them. They should provide intelligence on their market, so large companies can understand how they can work together to build a product in this new industry.

As a startup founder, know what your expectations are from the large company, what you can offer them. At this point, having a team member with previous experience in a corporate environment can be helpful because they know how things work in that setting.

  1. The bigger the organization, the longer the process of working with them. Be patient.

As a startup, you have a flexible schedule and you are more easily available for meetings and making quick decisions, that’s just your culture. Within a bigger organisation though, it may take somewhere between a month and six weeks to get the right people together for a meeting. It’s a completely different time scale.

Again, this is why it’s valuable to have someone in your team with previous corporate experience because they will know when to get a process started, how to push it along and follow up to make sure everything gets done. Be patient, because the prize is definitely worth it.

  1. Create a competitive situation to move things along faster.

The only way to hasten the situation is to create a bit of competition between a few companies. Be smart about it, create a timeline and be open with everyone by telling them who you are also talking to. The same advice applies for when you are talking to an investor. Take control of the timeline.

  1. Go as fast as possible from idea, to product, to building business processes, to scaling and becoming a company.

Entrepreneurship is more than a business model, it’s a way of life. Figure out exactly what your customers need, how you should sell to them, then how much money to spend on advertising. When you have all of this, a polished product and positive unit economics (which means that for every dollar that you spend, you make at least a dollar and one cent in revenue over a reasonable amount of time) – it means you can hit the gas pedal, raise more money, build business processes and grow the company.

The goal is not to stay a startup for 2 years, but to grow as quickly as possible and become a company. Also, be careful to preserve a good culture: be open to new ideas, let people get creative and don’t impose a lot of bureaucracy.

  1. Intrapreneurship in large companies is mostly incubation – a successful experiment that turns into a separate business unit.

In order for intrapreneurship to be successful, the company takes a little idea for a new product that serves a new category. They then need to figure out what resources to use and how to leverage smart people from inside the company to create a new business. The venture starts as an experiment and slowly turns into a separate business unit in which the culture from within the company is preserved.

For example, HP has three separate business units: printing, PC (computing group) and 3D printing and different organisations that sell products across all three in the Americas, Europe, Middle East and Africa, and Asia Pacific. 3D printing was started within the company two years ago and it has recently announced the launch of a new product in May.

  1. The difference between entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs is that they use resources in a different way. Intrapreneurship is like entrepreneurship, but reversed. 

Entrepreneurs start a company on their own, they go after investors and do everything by themselves, sometimes with the help of an accelerator program. There, in a period of time that spans between 3 and 6 months they learn how to build a better product and grow their company.

Intrapreneurs come from a large company, usually from an incubator program. There, things are a little bit reversed, because they already have all the resources they need at hand, they just use them in a different way. For example, HP has an incubation unit where a team is responsible for getting people from within the company to build new businesses.

  1. To foster creativity in your company, you need people with a beginner’s mind.

The most valuable tips and tricks on how to foster creativity in your company are having people on board who have a beginner’s mind, and who are newcomers in the industry. This is of course, more difficult to achieve in large companies, but the key is to approach the process in the right direction. Good companies and good products respond to a need in the market, and it’s very difficult to do that in reverse. For example, if an engineer comes up with a news technology, it’s more difficult to find a market for it and sell it, than to figure out what the need is first and then build the product.

  1. Don’t get hung up on moving from idea to product in a certain amount of time.

The time it takes to get from idea to product varies a lot. The best thing you can do is figure out who your customer is and what their problem is. Validate your idea by talking to as many potential customers as possible, as quickly as possible. The goal is not to build a product, the goal is to solve a problem. Go out there, talk about it and validate it – make sure your product is a solution to a big pain for people and that they would be willing to pay money to solve it.

  1. Talking at How to Web Conference: Entrepreneurs, don’t waste your non-refundable lifetime.

Vitaly will be speaking at How to Web Conference about how to beat Silicon Valley and how you as an entrepreneur can never get back two or three, or five years of your life if you’ve invested it in the wrong place.

Everyone is trying to replicate Silicon Valley and that’s a silly idea because it’s a complete ecosystem that was built across a few decades and it’s heavily oriented towards software. Look at the new opportunity: the next wave of technology is based on hardware, artificial intelligence, 3D printing – things that Silicon Valley doesn’t necessarily have the talent for.

If you want to learn more from Vitaly and maybe get him on board in your business, join us on the 1st and 2nd of November at How to Web Conference!

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