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How Vanilla Ice is a genius & 4 other startup tips I learnt from from Sam Altman & Scott Nolan at GridAKL

Full disclosure, Sam Altman didn’t start the meet and greet at GridAKL with a declaration of affection for an ageing rapper of the 90s, although there were some gems of wisdom that were perhaps as surprising. Sam & Scott spoke to 30 or so folks we love from Grid,  Biz Dojo  &  Flounders Club on the eve of the Auckland Startup MeetupSam & Scott covered questions ranging from culture fit, to raising first round investment to genuine puzzlers  like ‘how do i even get in the room with the right people – it seems impossible’’ (that one has no easy answer by the way).

If you weren’t lucky enough to be in the fray, it’s o.k because we put together a summary of some true gems of wisdom from the duo, and of course if you want to be included in any future events sign up to GridAKL news!

Startup tip 1: The startup wonderland you dream of may not be in the ‘bay area’
Both Sam & Scott pointed out that with such population dense, technology craving populations of peeps within a mere hop skip and jump of our shores, aiming to scale products in the States and basing your startups overseas arm out of San Fran may not be the solution you want or need. ‘Why not look to China?’ they ask ‘Or even Europe’ an option that for many younger startups may make it easier to start a satellite arm thanks to the handy working visa relationship for the youngsters’. At one point both of them reminded everyone present to not hold up the American market and tech startups as an unattainable thing to strive for, “businesses just as good are being built here – you are on equal footing”. 

Startup tip 2: Collaborate (also stop and listen)
We here at Grid know this all too well, i mean why start a flexible working space / co-working bizz if we don’t think there is a whole lot you can get out of working with others. We have written on this before, and it turns out we are in good company with our thinking. Collaboration, along with forming the hook of an earworm Vanilla Ice track is something worth celebrating. Sam & Scott both talked about the power of working with others from having someone to bounce ideas off, to having someone you share the very highs and lows of your business with in order to problem solve – collaboration is a winner.

We try and fund startups at mass scale, we have found that having a dense community of startups is so important to success, and the more startups we fund the more they help each other..

— Sam Altman

What does this mean for you? Finding a way to get in touch with other startup owners, for those on first (or second wave) investment is probably a bit easier – you would more than likely be attending the same events, involved in the same incubators or share the same mentors. For those starting out (or just lacking a little bit of a community around them) reach out to a meetup or a local founders club, come to a talk or get involved in an event (startup weekend or a charity hackathon). Anything that builds those ties, allowing you to learn from others mistakes without having to make them yourself or keeping motivated, in tune, and on path.

‘Stop, collaborate and listen’, too true Mr Ice. Too true.

Startup tip 3: Follow along with Sam Altmans 4 things startups need for success
Being the president of Y Combinator means that Sam is quite au-fait with what it takes to make a startup work, apparently its just four things. We say ‘just’ because like most things in life (breaking up with someone, deciding to have a dry july etc) the proof is in the doing. So what are these four glorious things? Idea, product, team and execution. We could go on about these things at length but why not hear it directly from the man himself.

Startup tip 4: Identify the scale of your idea
Scott Nolan of Founders Fund spoke about many things, from doing things differently to building up your skill base and entrepreneurial expertise by working on a series of ideas, each one growing as time goes on. However a little bit of logic that is good food for thought is this idea of identifying the scale of your ideas. Is your idea a feature on a pre-standing idea? A product or a suite of products which could then  be more of  a company structure. Or maybe that company will be so different it will build its own industry. The reason this matters? It tells you a lot about the path of your business from how to, and when to go for investment right down to if you hire now, soon, or much much later. To cover off this idea (and many more) have a watch of Scott Nolan speaking at the Auckland Startup Meetup in December 2014.

Startup tip 5: Make the most out of every opportunity
This one is less a tip from Sam & Scott, and more an observation from the folks hosting them – us. Hosting an intimate speaking gig with two startup legends was a great opportunity for all that were there to get their business/idea/face in front of people that matter. Some took the bull by the horns, making sure to introduce themselves and their startups, others asked incredibly pertinent, clear and well researched questions (and therefore got really great gems of information in return). Some stayed around for networking after, meeting residents or the GridAKL team, and some followed up with an email after to ask how they can get involved in future events. We witness so many of the moment, amazingly useful connections here at GridAKL  –  some during the day to day fervor of activity and others at events like this. Making the most of opportunities, turning up to meetups and talks and being open to conversation and connections is one of the best skills you can learn in startup and in life in general.

Anya is the Brand & Communications Co-ordinator for GridAKL, when she is not listening to Vanilla Ice she is wrangling content and stories about tech, innovation and interesting people. Follow more of the GridAKL story on twitter.