“Entrepreneurship makes the world a better place.” These words of wisdom were shared by technology visionary Bill Gross at a recent event hosted by NUS Enterprise, the enterprise dimension of the National University of Singapore (NUS) and venture capital firm, Wavemaker Partners.
Dr Lily Chan, CEO of NUS Enterprise, opened the talk by giving a brief insight into NUS Enterprise’s role in awakening and nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit within the University’s 32,000-strong student body. Out of the 200 new business ideas generated per year by the NUS community, around 40 will achieve some degree of success, be it in the form of VC funding, significant company growth or an acquisition. Zopim, Zimplistic and Patsnap are examples of such NUS student and alumni success stories. The remaining 160 ideas will may not necessarily fail, but they some may require more intensive support and financing before being able to attract external validation. As such, NUS Enterprise is exploring alternative modes of financial support to nurture the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Bill Gross, Founder, Chair and CEO of Idealab, shared how his career took him from selling chocolate at the school bus stop to designing his own speakers at university, creating programming software which he sold to Lotus Notes, developing educational software for children and eventually establishing the incubator Idealab through which he has successfully completed 45 IPOs, raised over US$ 3.5 billion and created more than 10,000 jobs.
On his journey, what has he learnt about what makes a start-up successful? Essentially, every start-up is different and there is no simple formula for success. Bill Gross studied five key variables in relation to companies that have succeeded and failed: the idea, the team, the business model, the funding and timing.
His conclusion: timing has the biggest impact on success, followed by the team, the idea, the business model and lastly funding. For example, Uber, the car sharing company, was initially met with scepticism. But, the idea took off as its launch coincided with the height of a recession in the US.
So, what are Bill Gross’s biggest lessons to guarantee the success of a company? Firstly, look for a problem that matters to you personally and then try to identify how technology can solve this. Secondly, “test like crazy”. Thirdly, listen to what your customers are saying. Ask yourself: “Are you solving your customers’ problems?” Fourthly, acquire the necessary competencies by putting together a team with a varied skillset. Finally, stick with your idea. Many ideas are ahead of their time and you must be prepared to be ridiculed, then violently opposed and eventually your idea will be accepted as self-evident.
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