As our regular readers will know, the WV venture partners have, over the last few months, been featuring Q & A sessions with existing WV portfolio companies in many our blog posts. However, in my latest post, I have decided to take a different path and feature a friend of mine, Peter Mullen. Peter is a consultant to entrepreneurs and startups in the Bay Area, specializing in business development. What I hope to accomplish in this blog post is to introduce an interesting member of the greater startup ecosystem and to provide many of our East Coast readers with a peek into the thriving startup hotbed in Silicon Valley. Without further delay…
N: Let’s begin with some background. How did you become a business development consultant to entrepreneurs and startups?
P: My career path has been 100% B2B and taken me to successively smaller companies starting with Hewlett-Packard and progressively smaller until reaching a three person startup. More recently, I became involved with the startup community in selling internet services with a client list that included Eventbrite, Yammer, Zendesk, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, Uservoice, Pier38/Dogpatch Labs, 99 Designs, Adroll, Glassdoor, Sharethrough, SlideShare, Disqus, Tiny Speck, Booyah, Quora and many others. My basic approach to selling involved going to events and making first contact there, augmented with a heavy emphasis on social media tracking of various key players and companies. I became particularly intrigued with the incredibly impressive level of talent, of extreme intelligence, drive, passion and humility than most of the colleagues I’ve had the pleasure to work with in my career. I simply decided it was where I wanted to be. I also saw a tremendous need for business development and sales capabilities as most local tech companies are founded by two or more technical co-founders with little or no experience in what it takes to market, sell and service customers. I’ve since tried to focus on finding the right intersection of companies that have a need that matches my skill set, my approach to selling/bizdev, cultural fit, and have a product that brings a significant improvement or something radically new to a market ready to be improved upon.
N: In what areas do most entrepreneurs need help?
P: For young entrepreneurs, who may not have had the benefit of experience in working for a more established company or having been groomed under highly skilled and experienced business leaders, I would say that entrepreneurs need the most help in building a business in a more comprehensive fashion. It may be an over generalization but I mostly see geeks building stuff simply because they know how and are very good at it. By ‘it’, I mean writing code, designing screens or writing algorithms. But what does the market need? What are your customers telling you? The skill set for building a business or building a company is much, much different than the skill set required to build an app or product. I would recommend people who think they just have to be an entrepreneur should give more thought to joining a larger or more established company and then being part of a product team and learn the ropes of building a business from their respective company leadership teams. One need look no further than the number of ‘acquihires’ where a one app or one product ‘company’ is bought by a bigger player and the app is shut down and the team reassigned to work on something else. It kind of demonstrates the actual or true value of the product itself versus the value of the team.
N: What market trends are you seeing in general startup space?
P: I’ll take artistic license with this one as it is pretty wide open. With the proliferation, relative maturity and saturation of consumer web, consumer app and general social media plays, I sense a slowdown in the general consumer space. Enterprise seems to be all the rage these days and I’m starting to see more companies launched or moved here from overseas targeting the B2B space. I think we are also seeing or will start to see more examples of seed funded ‘companies’ go under for lack of financing options to obtain successive rounds of funding. Much is written about the ‘Series A’ crunch but don’t look at it as a lack of funding but perhaps a lack of value of the apps/products/teams that have been seed funded in the first place. Another thing I’m personally seeing is a rapid proliferation of coworking spaces, incubators and so called accelerators. I went to a holiday party the other day at a new space in the Twitter building called Runway and both Citizen Space and NextSpace recently opened new office space I new locations in the financial district. I guess this bodes well for incoming startups as competition drives down desk prices. I’m also seeing a rise in corporate VCs, corporate innovation teams, and more big corporate attention being paid to the Silicon Valley startup ecosystems, sometimes opening up offices, assigning senior people to tap into the Valley in a multitude of ways (social media, advertising, mobile, cloud, big data, etc).
N: What qualities do you think make Silicon Valley the preeminent place to launch a company?
P: Apart from the generally accepted wisdom that access to venture capital, access to talent (fed by a superior university system Stanford, Cal) and a rich legacy having birthed HP, Intel, Cisco, Oracle, and later Yahoo, Google, Facebook and Salesforce there is also a very unique ‘always on’ mentality that I do not see anywhere else in the world. I’ve lived in NY/NJ, Atlanta as well as SF/SV and also traveled the world with HP and other companies and always found other areas generally had a more balanced approach to life and shut down after hours and on weekends. In Silicon Valley, the focus on work truly never stops. It goes on after hours, weekends and there is rarely a weekend that I’m not able to attend a hackathon somewhere close by, events, meetups or group collaboration to solve a particularly vexing problem. While this does not exactly bode well for raising families in a balanced fashion, it does give the Valley a decided advantage in outright speed of execution, hyper growth and literally stamping out new companies like iPhones at the Foxconn plant. Another thing that I find unique to ‘the Valley’ is an environment of openness that I just do not find anywhere else. It’s almost as if trust is assumed from the outset and it allows a very rapid progression of an idea, into a design template, into a product, into building out a team and potentially growing a business. The whole process of incubating an idea into a product or business it seems is able to happen here much faster than anywhere else.
N: What advice do you have for our readers who are presently or soon will be starting a company?
P: If possible, and if only because the relative age of new founders keeps getting younger, try to have some perspective around whether you are building a feature, an app, a real product or a business. Without a broad base of experience to leverage, it can be difficult to truly internalize just how your product or service will actually meet a real need in the marketplace. Too often I see a founder working on an idea without taking the time to evaluate the marketplace for the product they think they are going to build. I’m not saying to do a really sophisticated market analysis for a proposed product, service or app but at least taking the time and doing the sometimes difficult research needed to determine a market need can make the difference in getting funding or not, actually moving forward with an idea or not, or perhaps pivoting because you found the market projections were not realized in the real world once you have tried to gain some initial traction with a new app, product or service.
N: Peter, it was a pleasure speaking with you and best of luck.
P: Thanks, Nick.
About the author: Nick Daley Nick’s role at WV is to identify prospective portfolio companies, opportunities, and entrepreneurs to bring into the WV incubation process. Once identified, Nick will then manage, coach, and support the team utilizing the resources of WV to achieve sustainability and success.