When I finally had the chance I joined my ESCP Europe
peer and friend Oz to see whether I could contribute in any form or
shape to his health tech idea in Silicon Valley. It took me to many
inspiring and impressive people, to Stanford
lectures (deja vu) and to many long winded discussions around
health, innovations, VC vs angel funding, the world, the election,
the chance of doing good, Steve Jobs favourite restaurant and what makes
for a great business model.
What do entrepreneurs need for businesses success
Here are some observations:
1. A great idea is only as great as the business it
Having an idea is easy. Actually there are tons of great ideas
around. But there is a shortage of great businesses. If what you
have is an idea, get back in line. If you have a real business
there's plenty of help to be found. Next aim at milestones, not
world domination. Having a vision is a prerequisite, but building a
business requires well, business skills and shows whether you can
manage Product, People and Market brilliantly or not. Can you spell
2. It's not about your idea. It's about you
An idea is never better than the people that ride it on the
rollercoaster they call the market. What the product is made of is
very interesting, what you are made of is very crucial. There will
be ups but surely downs. How well you can handle those are key. So
prove your character, experience and resilience. Oh and yes, the
idea still has to be great.
3. Listen to the dumb market - not the genius in the
All great military strategies change when engaging the enemy,
and all great products change when meeting its first customers. The
market might not know what it wants, but chances are it will know
once you engage with it. And more often than not the answer is a
big NO. So iterate and ask until you get a big YES.
4. You don't have to be first. But be better
In many newly established categories there's only room for a
couple of contenders and usually one will quickly be the "winner
takes all". So if you're not first, be a Fast Follower that takes
the category to the next level by leveraging the innovator's market
acceptance to reach bigger audiences faster by better defining the
success factors. A right out differentiation however is only
relevant if a big portion of the market quickly understands that
your product somehow adds more value than existing offerings. Many
people are in the entrepreneurial space because they want to be
appreciated as smart and successful, but the successful ones are
smart because they appreciate what other people want. And often
that is something simpler. But sometimes it is something
5. Do or don't your interests align with the VC's?
Venture Capitalists, angels or not, might seem wonderfully
helpful and they have to be, in case YOU are the golden nugget.
They really fear losing money. But they fear missing the next Facebook so much more. However your interests
do not always align. They use (mostly intuitive) pattern
recognition to zero in on their favourites. Learn these patterns
because if you somehow don't fit you're out. But several investors
turned down Zuckerberg and pads were a failed innovation
for twenty years (Newton) until Apple succeeded with the iPad. So
a pattern is the right answer until it suddenly becomes the very
6. Know the value of smart money
The professional VC's call their money "smart", because it
usually comes with hard earned experience and useful connections.
But it also comes at a price, so check out the dumb options as
well. There are thousands of rich private individuals with funds to
spare who would love the purpose and thrill of investing in you.
And they are unlikely to have the same rigid ratios and rules as
the VC's (less predictable?). Most owners change (their attitude,
motivation, risk profile etc) over the course of an ownership, so
make sure the change is somehow predictable and always to the best
interest of the company.
7. And lastly don't use the U-word
The "Uber of…" list of failures is excruciatingly
long and the surest way to be laughed out of a room. You might be
brilliant, but make sure also to be original when pitching. Just a
friendly warning (and yes, this was just before Uber's founder went
over a cliff).
Entrepreneurs & ESCP Europe
Alums Aris Theophilakis and Ozcan Cilkmaz in Silicon Valley
*Thanks to Carol Sands of Angels' Forum, Ron Weissman of Band of Angels, James Terranova of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, Remzi Celebi of Stanford Medicine GSV
Lab, Utkan Demirci
of Stanford Medicine Canary Lab, Farzan
Azimpour, of IDEO, Sumit Shah of Stanford
Medicine, Stephen McCurry of Carbon
Health, Enis Gayretli and Ilker Koksal of Botanalytics, Ian Börk and Matt Hassel of Fusion Tech and of
course to one of the most passionate, generous and interesting men
in the world, Ozcan "Oz" Cilkmaz.
Aris Theophilakis is the founder
and CEO of Futatsu
Industries, a hybrid marketing agency based in Oslo Norway.
Aris still pretends to be part of the digital health startup Hospital On
Mobile. Actually he is, as the company is up and running.
Aris is also an Alumnus of the Executive MBA (Class of 2016) and current
participant of the innovative Executive Master in Marketing and
Impressed by Aris' story and how he tackles the
challenges that most entrepreneurs have to overcome to be
successful? Check out how ESCP Europe and its Marketing and
Creativity programmes can equip you with the tools you need in any
MSc in Marketing & Creativity
Executive Master in Marketing & Creativity
Aris' second blog will be published soon. Stay