An idea cannot be inherently good or bad, argues Salman Azhar, Entrepreneur in Residence, Associate Professor of Computer Science, and alumnus of Duke University. Instead, the success of an idea hinges on the steps an entrepreneur takes in the conversion from an idea to a plan.
On October 14, Azhar explained to students the evolution of a tech start-up from the idea phase to conception.
Azhar emphasized implementation details over the idea itself, citing the example of MySpace and Facebook: neither is conceptually better than the other, yet today, only Facebook stands successful.
Azhar introduced the Duke students to the Silicon Valley mindset, a set of conventions and pieces of advice to make it in the competitive world of start-ups. Azhar himself has expertise in the entrepreneurial round, citing his two successful start-ups. Now he has chosen to dedicate his time to giving back and encouraging the future generation of young people to put their ideas into action.
Azhar began his talk by probing students to consider motivation, to ask themselves at their cores why they should join the start-up world. He urges, “Don’t lie down” and work for established companies like IBM, Microsoft, or even Google– rather, try something on your own. Azhar points out that the challenges involved at a start-up exceed in scope those one might otherwise face, which may be limited to converting functional specifications into code.
“Brand yourself,” he said. Create an image of yourself, just as Apple creates one for its products. A brand, he notes, is a representation of one’s unique view of the world. The creation of a brand, ironically enough, ought to come from a certain degree of introspection. Such introspection should additionally serve to seek out complementary partners with whom to start a company.
In a guidebook-like manner, Azhar outlined the major concerns of a start-up process, including bringing an idea to pitch, obtaining funding and defining an exit strategy.
He emphasized the three rules for start-ups: 1. Don’t use your own money, 2. Don’t use your own money, and 3. Don’t use your own money.
He used Swyp, a start-up for alternative payment, to demonstrate examples of technical risks and business risks. In regard to the latter, he questions, “Why will the people pick your company?” And even, “Why will they make a decision?” challenging one to think about how to create a product compelling enough to move consumers to act.
After doling out tips on approaching investors for funding and explaining funding rounds, Azhar again returned to the question of the practicality of ideas. With respect to a decision between selling the startup or going public in an IPO, Azhar asserts that the only reason to go for an acquisition is if you run out of ideas, or if someone else can execute your idea better than you can.
Thus, Azhar presents the creation of start-ups as idea management, if you will. Only with such a practical approach can one hope for the survival of his idea in the rough and tumble of Silicon Valley.