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Stanford William Hsu

From Hubris to Confidence

What does Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Larry Page, Marc Andreessen, Elon Musk, and Peter Thiel have in common with me? We’ve all guest lectured at the Stanford Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar.  Here is me doing my best to not embarrass my fellow esteemed lecturers. . .

Stanford William Hsu

Back In The Day

Secret-to-My-Success1

It was 1999, I was 23. If someone asked, I usually lied and claimed to be 25. 25 seemed so much wiser and smarter not only because it seemed like a nice round number, but that I imagined that in 2 years, I would definitely become much wiser and smarter. Unfortunately, BuildPoint didn’t have the time to wait for me to become . . . wiser and smarter.

Starting an Internet company in 1999 meant not only that we had to shell out for an Oracle 8i license but also that it was game of the blind led by one-eyed men. The community of those that have “done it” was sparse (atleast in Internet). Those that have gotten rich and want to give advice don’t necessarily have the right advice to give. (collect underpants . . . profit!). I, on the other hand, probably wasn’t even asking the right questions and often too proud (too much of an ass?) to be solicit feedback. (I’m worth paper millions, bitch!)

I wish I knew better and had done more. After leaving BuildPoint, I spent the last 8 years building a career, learning the ropes, paying my dues, (and climbing the corporate ladder… eeks!). I was retraining my muscles to do the right thing, to think rigorously, and learn from some of the best in the industry who have “done it” and done it right.

I should have exercised my moral authority as a founder much more rigorously. As BuildPoint continued to scale, I didn’t scale with it. As a geek and natural introvert, I fell into the background as we handed off the baton to our professional CEO. What I forgot was that regardless of my title or position, as a founder, I needed to provide a constant reminder of our mission, goals, and strategies with not just my co-founders and the 10 guys that was with me in at our rented house in Palo Alto but every single new employee across all our offices. Connecting the dots and reaffirming the original thesis of the company as our competitive environment changed is the singular moral obligation of the founder, regardless how many gray hairs are helping to lead the company.

Its truly ironic that someone trained as an engineer with a finance background would screw this up – but screw up I did. We tracked and measure global metrics but we didn’t have functional / departmental KPI’s. Furthermore, these metrics should have been leading indicators of profitability and revenue – but instead they were leading indicators for market cap. (eyeballs?). The good thing is that culturally the entire industry has become much more sophisticated. This type of thinking has been debunked over and over again. LTVC, cohort analysis, attrition rates, engagement metrics were words rolling of the tongue of juniors in college the last time I help lead a class at the Stanford engineering school (boy, do I feel ashamed).

Another trite pithy management saying – stay focused. Incumbents are required to fight a multi front war – they have multiple disruptive innovations to be concerned about and magnitude higher absolute revenue growth they must achieve. Staying focused is often a luxury they do not have. On the flip side of the coin, the disruptors have limited resources but are able to go after much smaller early markets and opportunities – hoping to catch a tidal wave. Startup entrepreneurs are like gamblers at the roulette table with a last red chip playing against high rollers. The only bet that make sense is to bet on “00” – not breaking up $5 and spaying it across the board. I wish I was much more rigorous about saying “no” to the next opportunity, partnership, or feature. Instead of fighting a multi-front war and pretending I was the industry leader, I should have put all our eggs into a single basket and focus on achieving executional velocity around iterating on our core value proposition and product.

MuckerLab is a chance for me to help entrepreneurs compress the next 10 years of their lives. There is a lot to be said for being knocked around, but ideas and companies don’t have eight years of half life. Our partners and our mentors can help our entrepreneurs avoid mistakes, expedite partnership, recruit employees, and more . . . So our entrepreneurs can spend the next 10 years getting knocked around . . . as founder and CEO of their own company.

P.S. I’ve been spewing hate and mis-information (aka blogging) since 2005 – although a lot less in the last few years due to family and professional commitments. I’m going to move my soap box to here instead and actually get more active. The usual caveats apply (excerpted below in case you are too lazy to click through)

 

I write as an alter ego of myself. When I blog, I contradict myself, I lie, I bluff, I ramble, I spread mis-information. I am a bully. I am a playa-hater. I will take a position just to piss people off. Don’t take anything I write as the opinion of the company I work for; in fact, don’t take anything I write as my personal or professional opinion. In real life, I’m a much nicer and thoughtful guy. . . your standard stereotypical asian nerd. Oh ya, don’t try to fix to my broken English. Its not my first language :)

Why Now? Why Us? Why MuckerLab?

If you are reading this, it probably means you care about the startup community here in LA. And if you care, we have no doubt that you believe, like we do, that LA’s technology ecosystem (and more broadly, Southern California) is on a cusp of something big. We, the partners of MuckerLab, are excited to announce the launch of our startup accelerator for the LA startup community.  We want to be part of the coming transforming and do our part helping to make it happen.

Los Angeles has what it takes to become a major technology hub – all the fundamentals are here. We have roughly the same size of technical labor force as Silicon Valley, thanks in part to the presence of three of the top ten engineering schools in the world (Caltech, UCLA, USC). We are the epicenter of the world’s entertainment, media, sports and fashion industry.

Some of the most important and industry defining technology companies came out of our backyards – particularly in adtech, e-commerce, social and local. And for sure, the Los Angeles entrepreneurs we’ve met are smart, passionate and irrationally committed to their visions.  Today, kids grow up in Los Angeles wanting to be the next … Justin Bieber (!?) … because it seems so tangible to them; but we hope one day, these kids (and our own sons and daughters) will aspire to be the next Steve Jobs or Larry Page, because more than ever, great technology businesses can be built anywhere — from Estonia (Skype) to Seattle (Microsoft, Amazon) to Australia (99designs, Atlassian).

The four of us founders of MuckerLab have spent the majority of our careers in both Los Angeles and Silicon Valley.  What is clear to us is that LA is poised to experience the same seismic shift in the seed/incubation ecosystem that started to take place in Silicon Valley circa 2006, when a whole new, efficient ecosystem emerged — fueled by a rapidly growing and robust angel network, new seed funds and a slew of accelerators that drove the evolution of how new companies get started. The black box has started to open up — young and not so young entrepreneurs have a place (literally) to get their bearings before heading off to conquer the world. We want to help build that platform for Los Angeles, be a part of next wave of innovation and, perhaps, with all of your help, do our part to amplify the outcome.

MuckerLab is about the people — our mentors, the entrepreneurs and us all working side-by-side to jumpstart exceptional businesses in Southern California. You can read our chest stomping bios and make us feel better about ourselves. :) But, we think we can help entrepreneurs because we’ve all been there.  We are operators who have built and scaled technology businesses at all stages – from founders to Fortune 100. We earned our stripes as product managers, marketers, engineers, and general managers. We are successful entrepreneurs ourselves. We have built companies from scratch, recruited co-founders, raised hundreds of millions in capital and sold our ventures. We have a proven track record of success in diverse segments of Internet and media, such as e-commerce, entertainment, payments, local, mobile, content, digital advertising and social. And though we have spent a sizable portion of our careers in the Valley soaking in whatever magic that makes it so special, we have our roots firmly planted here in Los Angeles, integrated into this community.

We’re also not so far removed from our humble beginnings to think it’s beneath us to help design wireframes, build user acquisition models, develop marketing plans and write user surveys. (We actually enjoy it!) You, the entrepreneur, bring your passion and vision — we are going to do everything we can to help you be successful.