Go Youth Conference was our harbour for the weekend and great learnings came out of all the talks we listened to. Attracting some of the big fish within the startup world, from top international investors to successful entrepreneurs, Go Youth Conference gathered above all people who had a story to tell. Here’s what we’ve learned in this two day conference that makes the whole Portuguese startup scene proud:
1. Do something people want and make them happy
When building a startup you need to think about your audience and doing something that actually matters, not just for yourself but for those around you. It’s about making a statement and following through like Thom Cummings, Head of Markets at Soundcloud said: “make a statement and give your audience what they want”. Matthew Brimer founder of General Assembly goes even further: “it’s not about building a company with a vision it’s about building a company with a purpose.” So, in the end if you don’t have a purpose, if a significant number of people don’t care about what you do and if you don’t “make people happy”, like Ray Chan from 9Gag said, you probably won’t make it. Most of the speakers and entrepreneurs at Go Youth seem to follow this golden rule so assume that starting a company without it would be the same as setting sail without a compass.
2. Don’t make assumptions
It’s easy to assume and much harder to dig in and find out, that’s for sure. Don’t be tempted by the easy way, at least that’s what some of the experts have said. Thom Cummings, who has tones of experience at entering new markets at SoundCloud has one advice that is actually taken from the punk rock band Sex Pistols: “Assume you know nothing”. And Ray Chan, CEO and founder of 9Gag seems to have the same point of view: “Whatever you think, think the opposite”. So there you go, don’t make easy assumptions just get out of the building.
3. A startup is always a work in progress
Get things done. This may sound a bit of cliché but if there’s one thing about clichés is that they’re most likely true. Like Brittany Laughlin from Union Square Ventures has stated: “The most important thing is to get started”. We couldn’t agree more, however you should also know is that building a successful a startup is a work in progress. “There is no done, every product needs an update” admits Thom Cummings from Soundcloud. So you oftern need to “prioritise and get things done” like Miguel Amaro from Uniplaces has told the cheering crowd. For the co-founder and CEO of The Muse, Kathryn Minshew, this also makes sense: “You need to do it, because done is always better than perfect”.
4. Make your bed every morning
Ray Chan from 9Gag gave some of the funniest advice to young entrepreneurs as you can probably tell and one of them caught our special attention and that is to “make your bed”. Yes, go ahead and do what your mother told you, because small things matter. “Be a do’er, everyone can have an idea so you need to be a follow through person” said Ray Chan in one of the best talks of the conference.
5. Learn from your failures… and successes
Taking risks is hard because you always fear the outcome. However, as it turns out “if you have failure under your belt, you’ll be stronger” according to Mathew Brimer who has met and helped many entrepreneurs through his company called General Assembly. But even though failure’s inevitable, you should also keep in mind that you need to learn from success as Ray Chan from 9Gag admits: “failure teaches you what you shouldn’t do while success teaches you about the right thing to do”.
6. Hire people better than you (no assholes)
Hiring is always a challenge when you have your own startup, not just because it’s hard to attract top talent but because you want to “hire people who share your values and the values of your company” like Kathryn Minshew from The Muse has mentioned. Therefore, in the end it probably makes sense to “hire people who are better than you” like Matthew Brimer founder of General Assembly suggests and “don’t try to be the smartest person in the room”. In the meantime make sure you’re not hiring any assholes no matter how good they are: “At The Muse we have a no asshole rule – so no matter how good you are if you’re an asshole we won’t hire you” admits Kathryn Minshew.
As to keeping your team motivated it’s crucial that you give them “a mission and empower their drive and ambition” as Morten Primdahl, founder and CTO of Zendesk advises and everybody else seemed to agree. Kathryn Minshew also thinks that you should “build an amazing team and give opportunities for them to achieve their goals” and she goes even further: “most people are not motivated by cash so think of other perks like for example at The Muse in the beginning we gave people access to really good conferences”.
7. Collaboration is key – we now believe in karma
One of the most inspiring talks was given by Matthew Brimer, founder of General Assembly. Matthew really believes that “giving karma is really necessary and valuable and if we help each other we’ll build a stronger community”. He talked about his own experience when he was helping out entrepreneurs and making introductions in New York which made him realise the importance of founding General Assembly. So, if you’re aiming for success don’t forget to think of those around you, as Matthew Brimer said: “People who are too self centred tend to be less successful in the long run”.
8. Fundraising – build trust and do your homework
One of the most important things when raising money for a startup is trust as Adam D’Augelli, from True Ventures puts it: “you have to build trust, we choose our investments by getting to know people well”. Martin Mignot from Index Ventures even uses a metaphor to describe the relationship between an investor and the founders of a startup: “it’s pretty much like a marriage but without the divorce option, so you better know them well before making a commitment”. Of course that introductions usually help in this process, so if you’re fundraising make sure somebody the VC already knows introduces you to them. As Ciáran O’Leary from Early Bird VC said: “intros prove you know how to play the game, it’s a bit elitist but a good barometer”.
Another advice you should probably take into consideration is from Alexandre Barbosa, Managing Director at Faber Ventures: “when looking for investment you need to do your homework – see what kind of startups we have in our portfolio for example”. So make sure you “talk to other startups that were invested by that VC before, do your own due diligence” like Jaime Jorge founder of Codacy stated. Just please “don’t write a 50 page business plan and if you do, don’t show it to anyone” and take Adam D’Augelli’s word for it.
9. How to choose a co-founder: live or travel together
The problem with co-founders is that in most cases you realise when it’s too late that you made the wrong choice. To make sure you choose your co-founders wisely you need really get to know them well. For Filipa Neto from Chic by Choice it helped that her co-founder was a close friend from university and that they were housemates before. Vasco Pedro CEO of Unbabel shared the same point of view by talking about his YCombinator experience: “when we were at YC we had a two bedroom apartment for 5 people so we really need to get along for things to work”. Another example Vasco used was travelling together: “when you take a long trip you get to know the person well so it’s not just circumstantial”.
10. Listen to feedback but don’t let anyone slow you down
Or Arbel is the man behind Yo, the simple mobile app that everyone talked about during this last year. Or Arbel agreed to that general idea that feedback is really important when building a product however he defends that “you should always listen to feedback but don’t let anyone slow you down”.
11. Don’t go work for McKinsey
Well, this was actually a question from the audience. Does a recognised working experience at a company like McKinsey helps you when starting a company? VC Hussein Kanji from Hoxton Ventures urged the crowd: “Please don’t go to McKinsey, no good can come out of that”.
12. Storytelling: forget the numbers
Burt Helm from Inc. Magazine shared his recipe for success when writing a story and one of the tips he gave was to forget about the numbers. Most people think that when pitching to journalists you should do the same as with investors and show them your numbers. Well, that is not necessarily true. People don’t really relate to numbers. As Burt Helm puts it: “you are the story, not your numbers or how fast you’re growing”.
13. Be insanely persistent but polite too
Building a startup is not easy but then again it’s the adrenaline of starting something new that people will use that keeps you going. For Kathryn Minshew this makes particularly sense: “we spoke to 150 investors and 148 said no”. However, Kathryn and her co-founders really believed in what they were doing and they kept on going no matter what. And in the end “some of the investors who initially said no, invested in The Muse later on – so be insanely persistent but polite too”.
There you go, this was Go Youth Conference 2015. You’ll get married more often than you think, if it’s with your co-founders or with your investors. And when you do please let us know, as the captain of a ship can get you officially married. Just let us know if we can make the match – it’s all about giving karma.