The Evolving Entrepreneur : Recap & Nuggets of Wisdom

UCLA - Mohanjit Jolly [cq] doled out key advice he learned on his way to the top of the entrepreneurial ladder to budding entrepreneurs at the UCLA Anderson School of Management Entrepreneur Association’s 29th annual conference last week. Born in India, Jolly immigrated to California in the 1980s with his family and worked his way up, eventually attending MIT and landing at various high-profile jobs. Now, he’s a Partner at DFJ where he manages DFJ's India portfolio, serves as a board member of U.S.-based companies, and leads DFJ's business development efforts. [cq]

Calling himself one of the few people who has practiced venture capital on both sides of the planet - America and India -  Jolly told the audience they can’t predict what’s going to happen at what time.

He also told the group to think big, know your business model, remember that customers are important, not be ignorant or arrogant in business; have a timeline and to remember it’s about the people, among other things.

“Know what you’re good at and what you’re not good at,” Jolly said.

This year, organizers said the Entrepreneur Association partnered with the High Tech Business Association to create a bigger and better conference. The theme of this year’s conference was “Evolving Entrepreneur,” which is an exploration of what it means to be an entrepreneur within an ever-changing landscape that includes media scrutiny, competition for talent, and contracted business cycles, said UCLA Anderson student Kristina Bidovec, who sits on the EA Conference executive committee. [cq]

“This conference is a celebration of the momentum we've seen recently around the LA entrepreneurial scene or Silicon Beach.  Our keynotes exemplify our theme and LA entrepreneurship,” said Bo Pulito, [cq] co-director with Bidovec [cq] and Asmi Shah. [cq]

Panelists at the handful of sessions told the audience to start a company for the right reasons; have a clear vision of where they’re headed and focus on highly specialized platforms in startup companies.

When it came to entrepreneurship in the music community, creativity took high marks including live streaming hologram performances of famous musical artists for fans who can’t make it to concerts.

Highlights included an opening speech from CEO and founder Sean Rad, from dating app Tinder,[cq] to standing room only discussion in wearable technology.

In the Fast Pitch Final, four finalists pitched their business ideas to a group of CEOs and serial entrepreneurs. Contestants had 90 seconds to present their idea. First place and $2,000 went to Calvin Portley[cq] and RxCUE; second place and $1,000 cash price went to Anthony Gonzales’ FITguard a[cq] nd third place went to Neama Dadkhahnikoo for his idea, Wirz Energy.[cq]

Pulito said the theme encompasses traditional garage-startup entrepreneurship with more systematic approaches found in established organizations.


How Do People Communicate?

In his opening keynote speech, Sean Rad, from dating app Tinder, [cq]  said he was always interested in how people communicate.

“What people don’t think about is ‘how do I solve the problem of meeting new people?” he asked the packed auditorium at UCLA. “It wasn’t being addressed. If we can figure out when two people want to know each other, we can make the world a better place. I guess it worked.”

He gave the audience a few nuggets of advice: start a company for the right reasons.

“Do it because there is a problem you have to solve, [you] can’t sleep at night until you get what’s in your head out there,” Rad said. “Second, have a clear vision of where you want to be, in five, 10 years.”

He said Tinder doesn’t think of its competition and the company doesn’t copy anyone else.

“We are our own competition. Be our own disruptor like Apple, who always innovates,” Rad said.

And when it comes to getting a job out there after college, Rad said to figure out what the company values.


Doggy daycare, flowers, cards and Uber

BloomNation, DogVacay, Uber, and Minted all had nuggets of wisdom to deliver to the audience when it came to starting up a company and why Los Angeles has a good scene for entrepreneurship.

For Farbod Shoraka, CEO of BloomNation, [cq]which allows people to list, discover, and send unique floral creations by local artisans across the country, it was easy to attract suppliers. He said he worked with florists around Los Angeles who then talked to their friends in New York and Chicago.

Aaron Hirschhorn, CEO and founder of DogVacay [cq], said it was a slightly different challenge. His company connects dog sitters with dog owners.

“Our hosts or dog sitters are not professional. Our dog sitters are regular people,” he said, adding he called up 1,000 people and told them about the concept in the beginning.

At Minted, an online marketplace that brings cards, announcements, and artwork from designers and artists to consumers, people want to offer up their services, said Sandy Cook, Senior Director of Product Management. [cq]

She said the designers are not employed as designers elsewhere – they can be stay at moms.

“Minted’s brand is very boutique. I think being able to have their design with the Minted logo on the back says a lot for these designers,” Cook said. “Minted is a platform that allows them to express this creativity.”

For Uber, William Barnes, General Manager on the West Coast, [cq] said Uber contracts with people on an hourly basis in a constrained geographical region and then markets that demand.

Early on in forming a startup, Hirschhorn said, “you have to be focused.”

He said if you’re trying to do two things in the beginning, you’re doing too many things.

“You need to be really laser focused and when you’re big enough, branch out,” said Cook from Minted. She added Minted first focused on holiday cards and birth announcements and branched into art prints later on.

The moderator of the panel noted Los Angeles is an emerging,

entrepreneurial tech scene. Both Shoraka and Hirschhorn have their companies based in Los Angeles.

Shoraka called it a “natural decision” to base BloomNation in LA while Hirschhorn said it was a great place to live.


Musical entrepreneurs

The next group of panelists each had their own inspiration for loving music and pursuing startups that were musically driven. Each is redefining how fans and consumers plug in, rock out and listen to their favorite artists and bands.

For Ashley Crowder, Co-Founder and CEO at VNTANA,[cq] which sets up holograms of various musical artists at concerts, her company targeted fans and sell their hologram performances.

Matt Sandler, co-founder and CEO of Chromatik, [cq] said Chromatik copied Spotify’s business model. American Idol, UCLA and the Los Angeles Unified School District use Chromatik’s web and iPad products.

Alex Reinlieb is CEO and founder of [cq], which lets people share music in a real-time, community-driven environment.

Reinlieb said all of their content comes from YouTube and SoundCloud.

“They have all the licensing in place…,” Reinlieb said.

The panelists said countries such as Brazil have a big music culture along with Asia and India, and the U.K.


Wearable Technology       

Four innovators in wearable technology took the stand in a panel that was standing room only at the conference.

But what is wearable, is it the software or the hardware? asked David Whelan, the moderator and Managing Director at Bespoke Business Strategy. [cq]

It’s a combination of the two, the software powers the hardware, said Suraj Arora, an MBA candidate in the UCLA Anderson School and founder of Custom Fit 4 You. [cq]

“Regardless of all this data you’re collecting, it’s going to take the right kind of software to create the experiences that people can benefit from,” Arora said.

From the consumer perspective, Eric Mizufuka, product manager in the new markets group at Epson America, Inc. [cq], it’s the value they are getting out of the wearable. He said a big piece is from the software.

Meanwhile, Benjamin Bryant, Head of Web and e-commerce at Pebble, [cq] said they see themselves as a platform.

“It’s what you’re able to do with these devices,” he said. “We’re also looking at the ability to interact and control the world around you.”

Cavan Canavan, co-founder and CEO of Focus Trainr, [cq] said a wearable is a hardware piece but the software will be developed from the ecosystems that develop the brand.

Bryant called wearables the cloud, the infrastructure on what’s important.

“It’s Google now on steroids,” he said. “That’s when wearables come in their own and become a benefit to society.”

Before the conference, Hirschhorn, from DogVacay, gave advice to future entrepreneurs: don’t start a business to end up on a panel or to get rich.

“…Start a business that you believe in and really focus on what will make that business great,” Hirschhorn said. “Focusing on the right things will help lead you to success.”