Bill Gross is one of the great heros when it comes to technology incubators. Twenty years ago, he founded Idealab, a business whose business plan is to create more businesses. This started out with just a handful of companies in 1996, and has since gone on to found 150 companies, that have collectively raised three and a half billion dollars. Out of these companies, more than half have either gone through successful IPOs and acquisitions, or are currently operating. That investment has generated a 13.5x return, and created more than 10,000 jobs.
Obviously, when you want to talk about what goes into a successful startup, Bill Gross is the person you want to talk to. We were happy to have him Keynote the Hackaday Superconference this year, and the lessons he shared might surprise you, especially if you’re interested in starting your own business.
Lessons for Startups:
Bill had a few lessons for the Supercon crowd and any entrepreneurs, summed up in seven points. First, timing is everything. Tesla would have failed if Elon founded it in the year 2000; battery technology just wasn’t there yet. Second, find an idea that is contrarian, but true. Again, our Elon provides another example — rocket science is rocket science, and the aerospace industry isn’t set up for disruption, because it’s all tied to government contracts. It turns out you can indeed build a rocket and find paying customers, even if you aren’t Boeing.
Lessons for All Companies:
These are simple ideas, but the next few points Bill covered relate more to building a successful company and not just starting a company. The goal of any company is to be a successful company, and that means structuring the company with high equity participation. If employees are invested in a company, they will work harder. Also, product-market fit is all there is. You’ll need to iterate, and you need to keep your customers interested. The job of a company founder is to build a complementary team — you can’t do it all — and you should hire the best people, get the best investors, and motivate your team.
Although the Hackaday Superconference is nominally about hardware, more than a few of the attendees, and Hackaday readers, I’m sure, are interested in starting a business. We’re not all here just to build one of something, after all. Dozens of Hackaday Prize entries have gone on to become sustainable businesses, and even Hackaday writers dipped their toes into the waters of business development with their hardware designs; the Mooltipass, for example, was first developed on Hackaday.
Bill’s life story and the tips and tricks he’s learned from over thirty years and hundreds of businesses are invaluable for everyone. From his assurance that every endeavor will spend time in “The Dark Swamp of Despair”, to his dissection of the traits a complementary team needs for success, this is a fantastic talk everyone must watch.