“There are definitely advantages to starting a venture now”

May 26 2010

He is a startup guy. In all the dimensions of the word: founder, advisor and mentor. His sales team nicknamed him ‘The Roadshow’ and he is proud of it. Roy Rodenstein is currently director of business planning at AOL in the Local group, after they acquired his company Going in June 2009. He has kindly answered HitBarcelona questions about how to startup and the major entrepreneurial mistakes to be avoided.

Roy Rodenstein

Roy Rodenstein

-First of all, the question which entittles your blog: how to startup? What do you recommend to wannabe entrepeneurs who want to start a company now?

I think a lot of the key to being an entrepreneur is looking in the mirror and being honest with yourself. There are several key questions for new entrepreneurs to ask themselves and come to terms with:
- Is this what I really want to do? Can I commit to this venture for 3-5+ years to see it through?
- Can I bear the risk and the stress of the ups and downs that any company, no matter how successful, goes through?
- And, do I really in my heart of hearts feel like the idea I am pursuing has a legitimate chance to work?

The other key is really forming a support system of people who have done it before or can help in other ways. These days there is a lot of great information online, and learning about key topics such as fundraising, customer development, recruiting etc. will be very valuable. Having people you can turn to when times are tough or you have questions will come in handy, so attending local events, networking with peers on Twitter and blogs, and other ways to interact with the startup community are definitely recommended.

Despite these questions that are key for succeeding, I wouldn’t discourage someone that was a bit unsure but wanted to give it their best shot. The amount of learning -about business, management, marketing, and yourself- that any startup, no matter how small, provides is a huge asset for any future work.

-By the way, do you think this is a good time to start a venture?

I tend to think it’s always a fine time, but yes, I think there are definitely advantages to starting a venture now. There are a lot of amazing online services for startups, from billing to screensharing to group collaboration tools, that make it easy to be lightweight or ‘lean.’ As you grow and may need an office, real estate costs are lower now in most places than a few years ago. And with the economic problems, more people are either available in the job market or are open to considering new careers since there is instability in almost every industry now. Lastly, the availability of mentorship as well as seed programs and angel investing is higher than ever, and that is probably the biggest advantage of all.

-What are the major entrepreneurial mistakes to be avoided?

To me the biggest one always comes back to being aligned with the market. Are you really being honest with yourself, and your employees, about your current trajectory. If users and customers are happy and delighted, coming back for more and telling others about your offering, great. If not, it’s really time to bear down and review what the problems are and try to create a more compelling offering quickly, evaluating your available pivots. The #1 mistake I find is people coast for too long tinkering on the margins when it’s clear the product is just not quite there. In my experience when a product is right for a market fit, the evidence becomes very very clear.

There are certainly many tactical mistakes as well, such as spending money too quickly, getting the wrong kind of funding at a given time, or failing to fundraise sufficiently which can put you in a precarious position down the line. As the last couple of years have shown, the world can change at any point and you need to be prepared.

A final area I see a lot of problems with is in recruiting, even with cofounders. In the last month I know several startups who have had to switch out a founder or other early team member. This is a very difficult step, and the best thing is to avoid it by being very very clear in recruiting in the first place, but if there is not a fit then absolutely, bite the bullet and try to move on as cleanly as possible. The main rule of thumb I tell entrepreneurs is, don’t hire someone to cover a couple of small issues you think of today- it may not be a big enough job down the line. Make sure you think through for the long term, 1, 2, 3 years, how this person will add value and what roles they will be able to own.

-Are entrepreneurs born or made?

In my opinion, as I discuss on my blog, they are primarily made. Entrepreneurship requires a number of personality traits but as the saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention.” I believe most everyone has the innate capabilities, potential for emotional strength and leadership, IF they find something they are really passionate about that they want to see become a reality. The skills needed to actually start and run a business are hard, but can be learned by anyone with enough dedication and enough of a support system.

-Do you think an event like HitBarcelona can help entrepreneurs to achieve their goals?

I think HitBarcelona is an excellent event and a leading example of international cross-pollination and sharing of entrepreneurial experiences. I have heard excitement from several US-based entrepreneurs that are attending, and having family in Spain and Belgium I know that it’s also a major event in Europe. I think the diversity of attendees and topics is the main strength of Hit. Bringing together experts and newcomers from venture, finance, consumer products, science and technology across dozens of countries is a great forum for the engine of innovation that is entrepreneurship to spread and benefit more of the world.


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