Matthew: Lots of people admire entrepreneurs because they appear to make starting companies look easy. We know it can be very difficult, so we wanted to dispel some myths here. My question for you Anne is what talents or skills come intuitively or easily for you? What has been difficult and how do you manage that?
Anne: The easy part is a drive to solve a problem and to be very pragmatic about figuring things out. Being able to analyze a situation and quickly eliminate the things that are not relevant to whatever is at hand. That’s the easy part. The hardest part, I think, is you start a company based on passion. You need to continue to have that throughout. What you learn is that you need persistence, especially when you’re trying to convince people that you have something better than what they’re used to, that is completing new, and innovative in a way that is a bit challenging because it doesn’t fit with anything else they know. It took us a very long time to express the value of what we could do where that would be understandable for people who are not swimming in it like we are. Persistence is important.
Focus, I think, also. There were several times during the early years of the company, the temptation to get into businesses that we could have gotten into because of the solution we produced, but would not have led to the success we have today. This day it’s checking app, and suddenly everybody’s saying, “Why don’t you do a checking app?” First off, we’re not in the consumer business. The consumer cannot be owned by us and our client at the same time. Our clients want to own the customers so we can’t come up with a consumer [inaudible 02:03] solution, one.
Two, we don’t think checking is a business. We think checking is a feature. What is a business? It’s been interesting this focus and trying to not be tempted by the flavor of the day. Daily deals happened exactly the same way last year, so why don’t you do daily deals? First off, we’re working on a lot of interesting things in that space, but again what problem are you solving? It’s about the fundamentals that I was talking about earlier.
Location is going to be in one way shape or form at the center of the personalized contextual experience. That is true for five billion foreign users on the planet today. So, that’s the scale problem I’m tackling. I’ve built a solution where I can manage hundreds of millions of customers in real time. There are not that many companies that start off wanting to do that.
Matthew: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned launching PlaceCast?
Anne: The trust in your vision. Because it’s not about what I believe, it’s about how do I execute what I believe and how do I take people with me? Being able to create an environment where the team understands what you’re trying to do and seeing their piece in it. Your investors, your shareholders, how can they see what you see without being in it every day and still understand how to tell the story outside and how to position things considering the state of the market. Having this drive and trusting yourself that it’s going to be okay.
I have become a lot more Zen over the years, with having to deal with all sorts of circumstances, conflicts and issues. I see it. I know it’s there. We’re just going to continue and address everybody’s concerns and questions the best you can. My philosophy is that if you’re going to do something, then you have to do the best you can. Otherwise, why do it? I can go on and on this, but I think it’s back to the passion. If you don’t have enough of a desire, the challenges that you’re going to meet are going to stop you. I think that’s what makes successful stories be successful. It’s not the ideas. The ideas are a dime a dozen. What’s hard is to execute over time and stay consistent in your endeavor.
Matthew: What bit of advice do you wish you would have known before launching PlaceCast?
Anne: The importance of money. The aspects. It sounds obvious, right? It’s a business. When you start for the first time, I had started some companies before but I had never sought venture funding. Understanding how money works, particularly in the Silicon Valley. What are the dynamics? What are the problems a venture firm needs to solve in order to be successful at their venture business? How do you play that equation? Understanding the relationship between people around the potential promise of money as a return on risk. All these mechanics around the financing of the endeavor I didn’t know much about, and I’ve learned about. I think there is still limited resources for entrepreneurs to really understand that.
The other piece of the money thing is of course the market business. I speak publicly a lot, and I see a lot of young entrepreneurs who are technologists. I try to impart upon them that technology is great if it solves a problem. It’s not great just because you can build it. We all have, because we think this way, ideas of things we could do with technology. What is the problem? The line that I use is actually borrowed from one of my investors, which is you need to build aspirin not vitamins. If you don’t have a problem that you solve with your technology, you won’t have a business because people are not going to want to pay for it. The cemetery of startups is filled with people that had great ideas that didn’t solve anything.
Matthew: What mentor has played a significant impact in your development?
Anne: On the personal side, my father is a quite an influence out having himself been an entrepreneur in his own field. I have been here in the US, I’m French, I moved here about 20 years ago. Along the way I had the privilege of meeting people that matter in one capacity or another. As friends, a true mentor, I actually have not had that and missed that. I would have liked to have someone who is detached, having been successful and having perspective on things. That could have been a constant resource over time.
I have had pieces of mentors in different arenas, and have been able to talk things through. I think one of the issues that we were talking about earlier, was what didn’t you pay attention to? I think it’s really important to have people you trust around you, to whom you can say things like they are. The intensity of the ups and downs that you go through in a startup are such that you need to be able to vent. You need to be able to process things. It’s almost like a startup shrink function, where the patterns are recognizable for someone who’s seen a lot of startups.
They can tell you, “Listen I’ve seen ten of those. It’s okay. This is what is going to happen.” The mentoring is as much in the guidance and advice as it is in a sounding board. The problems are always the same for all the startups. It’s market. It’s technology. It’s people. A lot of people piece. It’s money. The problems are the same even though the application for your business or company is different.
Matthew: What advice would you like to share with the audience about launching a startup. If you have to distill it, what are the key elements?
Anne: People. The people go first. It’s not the idea that goes first. Again, an idea doesn’t have an value. It’s the execution of the idea that has value. If you don’t have the right people around you, your team, day to day working with you, you’re going to fail. Very public stories of companies that get enormous amounts of funding, and three weeks later the founder fights and leaves. This is ridiculous to me. Find the right people that you want to work with. It’s almost like a special ops situation. That’s an analogy I take off with my new hires. You have to trust the guy next to you, that he has your back, that he knows things you don’t. Conversely, that’s how he should relate to you. So, creating a core team of people who trust each other, that have complimentary skills, and with whom you’re really happy to get up in the morning and go work with every day, is key. Everything else is a product of that.
Matthew: Before we close, I would love for you to give our audience your vision for PlaceCast and how you hope it will continue to change the world.
Anne: I hope we will change the world. I’m not sure that we are yet. I want a little bit of humility. I do think that the platform that we’ve built has that capability inherently. I think the company is on a very good footing. Already we are on several continents and making deals with the largest companies you can think of. So, more of that, but also success and revenue is just a measurement of something else. I think excellence is not measurable in money. Excellence is measurable in the respect that you garner from the people in your space. We get every day, resumes of people that want to come and work with us, and we’re such a small company.
So, the reputation, the thought leadership. I was referring earlier to a paper I published in Forbes. It’s really about thinking of what’s next and how you can contribute to creating a marketplace that makes more sense to you. I see, for example, in the realm of personal data, and how online is a place where a lot of data is collected and trade, not necessarily in an open fashion. I think the next big debate, that we as PlaceCast can contribute to, which is, what is the role of personal data in marketing and advertising, and how to make sure that consumers are in the driver’s seat.
Matthew: Anne, it’s been a pleasure having you as a guest on FounderLY. We’re rooting for your continued success at PlaceCast. For those in our audience who would like to learn more, you can visit their website at www.placecast.net. This is Matthew Wise with FounderLY. Thanks so much, Anne.
Anne: Thank you so much.