- Steve Erickson, VP and GM, Audio Products, Creative Labs
- Matt Ready, VP, Sandforce (SJSU ’81)
- Paul McGrath, CEO, Ridespring
- Steve Olson (SJSU ’83), CFO, Ridespring
After taking sales positions at 12 different companies since he graduated from SJSU nearly 30 years ago, Ready said that he evaluated a career opportunity the same way that local VCs do, by looking at the market, the technology and the team
In particular, he looked at the new firm’s market, technology, team. He advised entrepreneurs: “if you come up with a new idea, you have to vett it against all three of these vectors.” The biggest problem that he saw was the first one, specifically the Total Available Market. If the company was going after a large enough market, it didn’t matter how good a job it did.
Not surprisingly for a finance exec, Olson was even more blunt in favoring operational excellence: “it’s less about the idea than the execution” because success is “90% execution and 10% a great idea.”
His advice to entrepreneurs was twofold. First, the entrepreneur has to be tenacious, finding creative ways to overcome the inevitable obstacles and surprises. Secondly, (s)he has to have a startup team that share that philosophy — one that is flexible and willing to roll up their sleeves to get things done.
The latter point reminds me of my longstanding observation that beyond entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs, many employees seem better suited for startups. Perhaps it’s because they thrive on chaos, perhaps it’s because they prefer being generalists — or maybe they just prefer an environment that provides the freedom to be creative.
As a board member of various startups, Erickson also agreed execution is what separated the winners from the losers. Without directly criticizing his employer, he noted that one of its employees created a hard disk-based MP3 player two years before the iPod . We all know who won, although getting their first brought Creative a $100 million royalty payment from the big A.
Even the one CEO offered only qualified support for the importance of the big idea. In particular, McGrath has given up on the idea of hoarding his ideas and keeping them secret for fear someone will steal them Instead, he encouraged entrepreneurs to “be brutal with your own ideas” and share them widely, encouraging others to identify any flaws.
He was blunt in encouraging entrepreneurs to get honest criticism sooner rather than later:
It’s painful if you find out your idea sucks, but it’s a lot more painful if you sink a lot of money into it.