Entrepreneurs are Everywhere Show No. 36: Jim Semick and Peter Arvai

Given all that I’ve seen in my career I don’t sweat the small stuff.

We didn’t talk about product; we didn’t talk about organization or raising money. We talked about our values, we talked about our hopes and dreams for the world, and that helped us realize why we were doing this project together.

Startups aren’t only for twentysomethings. And a founding team needs more than a complementary skill set.

Experience and vision were the focus of today’s Entrepreneurs are Everywhere radio show

The show follows the journeys of founders who share what it takes to build a startup – from restaurants to rocket scientists, to online gifts to online groceries and more. The program examines the DNA of entrepreneurs: what makes them tick, how they came up with their ideas; and explores the habits that make them successful, and the highs and lows that pushed them forward.

Jim Semick

Jim Semick

Joining me in the Stanford University studio were

Peter Arvai

Peter Arvai

Listen to my full interviews with Jim and Peter by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here.

(And download any of the past shows here.)

Clips from their interviews are below.

Peter Arvai – cofounder of Prezi dreamed of being a particle physicist but working in a startup changed his career path.

In Sweden, he founded omvard.se a company that aggregates data on treatment outcomes for hospital patients. Soon after, he developed the world’s first mobile newsreader so people could follow TED Talks from their mobile devices.  

Prezi’s founding team is a classic startup mix of hacker, hustler and designer. However, Peter says the company’s success is also driven by the co-founders’ shared values and vision:

For us, it was about really getting clear about why we were doing what we were doing. When the three of us met in a café in Budapest we didn’t talk about product, we didn’t talk about organization or raising money. We talked about our values, we talked about our hopes and dreams for the world, and that helped us realize why we were doing this project together.

No matter how much you know your co-founders, you need to have more than understanding of them. You need an element of love, because you will have conflicts, you will have issues and then you need to have the foundation to work those through.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Prior to founding ProductPlan, Jim Semick was part of the founding team at AppFolio, helping validate and launch its first products. Before AppFolio, Jim created the product requirements for GoToMyPC and GoToMeeting which was acquired by Citrix.

Jim lectures at University of California Santa Barbara and elsewhere on the process of discovering successful business models.

Having started ProductPlan in midlife, Jim found that his age and the knowledge he’s acquired have given him an edge:

I think that my experience with validation and launching other products has helped me immensely. So does my experience as a writer and instructor. I’m able to communicate effectively and that has contributed to ProductPlan’s success.

Given all that I’ve seen in my career I don’t sweat the small stuff.

Plus, having a family motivates me to make this successful.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Peter says they launched Prezi in the middle of the 2008 crash, with the audacious goal of taking on Apple, Microsoft and Google. To say it was an uphill battle at first would be an understatement. However they got early signs that they might be on to something:

Most people thought we were very wrong. Again, remember, everyone was losing their job, no one was willing to invest and so we had to bootstrap Prezi in the beginning.

We went a full year without raising any serious money.

We launched Prezi at a startup competition. Unfortunately we came in second place, but within five minutes of introducing Prezi, the moderator asked the audience, “How many of you would be willing to pay for this?” and half of the audience members raised their hand.  

That was the first time we knew that we were onto something really meaningful.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Peter and his co-founders were committed to making Prezi a global company. In doing so, they applied lessons Peter learned from working previously at Mobispine, a mobile communications company that developed the first mobile newsreader so people could watch TED talks from their smartphones:

At Mobispine we fell into the trap of thinking too local.  When we shipped, Mobispine worked perfectly in the Stockholm subway. But then I went to other places in the world and it didn’t work. We didn’t understand what would work in the rest of the world. 

One of the key things that I took away from the experience was that if you want to build a global company, you really have to understand the specific conditions in each of the places that you are going to. You have to think globally from day one. 

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Although Jim enjoyed bringing new products to market while working for others, starting ProductPlan allowed him fulfill the dream of being be master of his own fate:

I’ve always wanted to create a product that lived beyond me.

In my last job, when I was doing customer discovery, even though I was very invested and very passionate about the products, it was really for the organization, for someone else’s company. It wasn’t for myself.

This time, at ProductPlan it was for myself. That actually makes a real difference. I get so much more satisfaction out of this.

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Jim offered this advice for entrepreneurs doing customer discovery:

People want to be nice; people want you be successful. And it’s human nature to want to hear good stuff about what you’ve built.  But believing it all will put you out of business. 

You need to ask polite, but challenging questions to confirm that you’re not hearing these false positives.

If someone tells you: “I love the idea,” ask, “Why do you love the idea?” That takes you down a path, because so many entrepreneurs take that answer at face value and they run with it and say, “Everyone says they love the product,” which may or may not be the truth. 

If someone says, “I love the idea,” you need to ask them whether they’d give you the money they have in the wallet _right now_.  If they won’t they really didn’t love it that much!

If you can’t hear the clip, click here

Listen to my full interviews with Jim and Peter by downloading them from SoundCloud here and here. (And download any of the past shows here.)

Next on Entrepreneurs are Everywhere: Michael Ingle, founder of Clean Sleep; and Graeme Gordon, founder of Sneak Guard.

Tune in Thursday at 1 pm PT, 4 pm ET on Sirius XM Channel 111. 

Want to be a guest on the show? Entrepreneurship stretches from Main Street to Silicon Valley, from startups to big companies. Send an email to terri@kandsranch.com describing your entrepreneurial journey.

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