Inspired by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs like Robert Noyce, the founder of Intel, Arun Kumar, Director General of the US, says he always had a dream to end up in the Valley. “It was just a dream and I wasn’t sure how to get there,” he says. After meeting a computer scientist the two decided to go into a partnership, turning ideas into reality using Kumar’s business skill.
Kumar, an accomplished Silicon Valley entrepreneur, is the founding CEO and CFO of three technology ventures and has extensive experience in executive levels of business. He completed his MBA at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He advised aspiring entrepreneurs on key lessons at a forum held at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (Gibs) last week.
Key lessons from the Valley
As an entrepreneur, Kumar says his biggest challenge was convincing the market of what he was selling and then finding his first customer. He advises entrepreneurs to take risks and seize opportunities. Entrepreneurs should also consider the worst-case scenario.
Kumar says the Valley seduced him out of his comfort zone. “There is an audaciousness in Silicon Valley. A sense of risk and adventure is seductive.”
Entrepreneurs are given the chance to dream big because it is a place that “tolerates” failure, he says. Failure is not a badge of shame, but rather a badge of “tried”, indicating that the entrepreneur tried to do something no one else did. Trying adds value in that entrepreneurs learn and gain experience, he says. This contrasts with ideologies in other parts of the world where success is linked to stability.
Being open to opportunities is important, says Kumar. One does not know where the opportunity will come from, or what will come from it, but be ready to serve the moment, he advises. Failure is inevitable – one in three businesses succeeds and those that fail must learn how to recover.
There is an audaciousness in Silicon Valley. A sense of risk and adventure is seductive.
A rule of law should be implemented to protect entrepreneurs, says Kumar. In the US there is an insolvency regime, which means when businesses fail the loss is not felt in the entrepreneur’s personal capacity. “This prevents the business from losing value,” he says. Risk-taking should be encouraged like it is in the Valley, where “there is a whole ecosystem that supports risk-taking”.
Most entrepreneurship doesn’t involve as much innovation to the extent of that in Silicon Valley. Not all ideas are purely innovative, some are adapted, says Kumar. “To be successful you need to be differentiated and innovation allows you to differentiate,” he says.
A spirit of entrepreneurship is not necessarily something you are born with, he adds. He states that it is something that can be learnt, but not taught, adding that entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, for example, didn’t have parents who were entrepreneurs.
Partnerships are also valuable to entrepreneurs, says Kumar. There is a greater chance of success because each party brings different skills, attitudes and perspectives that complement each other in solving problems to the business. “Two heads are better than one.” However, he adds that partners should trust each other – many companies in Silicon Valley have failed due to teams being conflicted with “egos”.
Mentorship is “extremely” valuable. Kumar advises entrepreneurs to seek advice from leaders because their feedback is valuable and they may be willing to invest in ideas.
This article was featured in Finweek magazine.