Looking for some concrete, practical, straight-forward entrepreneurial advice? Of course you are! And today’s interview most certainly delivers. An entrepreneur at heart, Rahul Vohra has been involved with a number of startups, headed up the Cambridge University Entrepreneurs while attending college there, and is now co-founder and CEO of Rapportive.
Rahul’s experience with starting and running businesses and raising capital puts him in a great position to provide some really quality advice to young entrepreneurs, and that’s just what he does in this interview.
Enjoy the interview, and be sure to share your thoughts in the comments section below!
You’re currently the CEO of Rapportive. For those readers who aren’t familiar with Rapportive, can you give us a brief overview of this tool?
Sure. Rapportive is a free tool which adds rich contact profiles to Gmail. Imagine you’ve just got some mail… Rapportive shows you the sender’s photo, location, company, job title, and their social network profiles. You can establish rapport by mentioning shared interests and recent status updates. You can grow your network by following contacts on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. You can store thoughts and meeting summaries for later by leaving notes on your contacts. Imagine relationship management built into your email, for free.
You’ve picked up some big-name financial support, like Y Combinator, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Paul Buchheit, the creator of Gmail – something a lot of young entrepreneurs would love to achieve. What’s the most important piece of advice you can give to a startup in search of angel or VC funding?
To quote Paul Graham, partner at Y Combinator, the best strategy is to make something that people want. In addition, here are some tactical tips:
- Be persistent. Sometimes you need to make multiple attempts to get through. I once had to ask an investor’s wife to text him and remind him that I was still waiting to hear back!
- Ask for introductions. When the first investor commits, the ball will really start rolling. Ask each investor who commits for at least 5 introductions to other investors. Make sure they make it clear that they intend to invest.
- Create a market for your shares. Once you’ve got your first investor, you should very quickly expose the investment opportunity to as many investors as you can. Not only will this speed the process up, it will ensure that you get a good market price for your shares.
- Educate yourself. Raising venture finance used to be a black art with a high degree of information asymmetry. Now, everything you need to know is freely available on the web. One of the best resources for early stage funding is VentureHacks.com. You should make it required reading until everything they discuss is second nature. If you know your stuff when fundraising, it will impress potential investors: it will help convince them that you’ll continue to know your stuff as you build your company.
There is a great deal of debate about whether or not a college education is important for a young entrepreneur. With such impressive educational credentials, what are your thoughts on this?
Thank you for saying so – I don’t think my credentials are particularly impressive! I do, however, think that university offers a fantastic set of opportunities. There are many benefits:
- You can experiment with new ideas. When you start working, life will become much busier.
- You can learn the theoretical underpinnings of your craft. In my field, computer science, this opportunity doesn’t naturally arise during work.
- You can build a large and powerful network that will be with you for life. If I could change one thing about my university experience, it would be to have met more people.
- You gain more options for emigration. I would not have been able to get my US visa without a bachelor’s degree in a skilled profession.
- You gain experiences over which you can bond with many other people. Think of your ideal co-founder, and your ideal employee. Will they have gone to university? You’ll relate to each other much better if you’ve gone to university too.
I would highly recommend the undergraduate experience. I would, however, advise caution for entrepreneurs considering the postgraduate route. I started a PhD because I was under the delusion that this was a great way to start a company. It turns out that the best way to start a company is, in fact, to start a company.
What advice do you have for a young entrepreneur just getting started with his or her own company?
- Firstly, make sure you have access to enough cash to last you for a year. Everything will take longer than you think.
- For the first month or two, you should work without any co-founders. If you have co-founders at the very beginning, when everything is unknown and all seems possible, you are very likely to have pointless disagreements. Your burn rate will also be much higher than it needs to be. Once you’ve gained some degree of traction, you should then recruit one or more co-founders.
- Choose your co-founders very carefully. You’re going to spend day and night with them. There’s no great way to know what somebody is like as a co-founder without trying it out, so work together on a few small projects.
- Focus, above all else, on making something that people want. This goal has two parts: making something, and verifying that people want it. People might not know that they want your product until they see it, so it often makes sense to work on these two parts simultaneously. Finally, we should all remember that even great entrepreneurs can’t always accurately predict what people want. If it turns out that people don’t want your product, you should listen carefully, and change your hypotheses accordingly.
How do you define success?
We succeed when Rapportive becomes a large sustainable organisation, where we create technology that makes our users’ lives better, and where we all have a great time doing it. It’s that simple!
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