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Advice Roundup From 8 Founders

If you’ve been an avid listener of our podcasts, you’d know that towards the end of each episode, we do a round of quick-fire questions with our guests.

It’s our way of providing readers with a quick snapshot of each guest, and questions range from the best non-financial investment made (for Ming Maa of Grab, it was a ping pong table) to the most recent book they read (for Eric Yuan of Zoom, it was Principles by Ray Dalio).

One of the more common questions we ask centers around advice. The best pieces of advice they have received, what they choose to live by, and what they share with others. Here is a round-up of the best advice we’ve heard from eight founders.

A Passion Project

It’s well-known that the startup or entrepreneurial journey is fraught with challenges. And it’s precisely for that reason, Amit Gupta of Indian micro-mobility start-up Yulu, tells young entrepreneurs coming to him for advice, that you have to be truly passionate about your cause. “Are you really passionate about that? Will you fight for that problem with your life?” Gupta challenges. He acknowledges that many think that being an entrepreneur “looks sexy”, when it could not be further from the truth.

A common thread among founders - especially those coming from emerging economies - is a call for entrepreneurs to do something meaningful. “What pains me is when I see serial entrepreneurs chase after trivial things. Do something meaningful, for your country or for your city,” urges Gupta.

Regardless of where you are, what your position is in a company - always have that sounding board because we get a little myopic at times.

- Ming Maa, President, GrabTaxi Holdings Pte Ltd.

Stay Focused

It may sound like a tired cliche at this point, but quite a few founders we have interviewed have reiterated the importance of focus for young entrepreneurs. Snapdeal’s co-founder Kunal Bahl elaborates, “There are so many things you can do, but don’t get carried away by them. Just pick one, and do it really well. If it doesn’t work out, leave it and pick another one.”

CEO and founder of Agora.io, Tony Zhao, illustrates this best, “At the start of Agora, it was a challenging time. There were a lot of use cases coming onto the platform. While many others disagreed, we made a decision to focus only on real-time audio-video. We didn’t bother with instant messaging or SMS services. We stuck to our beliefs that real-time audio-video was important, and kept working and investing in building a better technology stack and creating simple APIs.”

It is a deceptively simple piece of advice, Tony acknowledges, but immensely powerful once you understand where staying focused can get you.

For Grab’s President Ming Maa, thriving in a region like Southeast Asia means staying laser-focused on your customers. “First and foremost, you need to understand your customers in a very deep way. Jeff Bezos is famous for talking about customer-centricity and avoiding a focus around competition [...] We’re all bombarded with tremendous media in today’s age. Tuning out what really matters, from what doesn’t, is one of the most important factors in being the last one standing.”

Talk Is Not Cheap

Getting feedback or getting into a back-and-forth about your ideas will help you tremendously. “Don’t get into a mindset where you think someone’s going to steal your idea,” asserts Josh Luber, co-founder of StockX. “It’s important to get out there and talk to everybody. In the process of talking, you’ll get to refine your ideas and perhaps even find the right people to work with, to bring those ideas to reality.”

“Regardless of where you are, what your position is in a company - always have that sounding board because we get a little myopic at times. Having somebody out there to keep us grounded is so important,” says Ming Maa.

It Doesn’t Always Have To Be Perfect

Get comfortable with the fact that, throughout your journey, there will be mistakes made. “The idea that you have to have this perfect idea and perfect plan, it’s just completely illogical!” exclaims Josh Luber. “I could never in a million years have predicted or planned to meet one of the most successful business people in the world, Dan Gilbert, and that he would have the exact same idea as me. I didn’t know that when I was creating Campless.”

“From my own experience as a failed founder,” shares Hans, Managing Partner at GGV Capital, “It seems like anyone needs to make a number of mistakes. You can’t just think in a vacuum and come up with a perfect solution. So the faster you can make those mistakes without hurting yourself, the sooner you get to know what to do. Most investors like the demand precision. But it doesn’t exist on the front line, on the bottom line.”

For Ming Maa, he sees inaction from leaders as “one of the worst things to do for an organisation”.

“It’s always better to make a decision even if it’s wrong, rather than wait for perfect data and not make a decision[...] Move and act, and then pivot a little bit later if the direction is indeed wrong, rather than keep the organisation at a standstill,” he adds.

Pay Attention To Who You Hire, And How You Hire

Finally, it has been said before, but it’s worth repeating: Hiring, nurturing and growing talent in your organisation is critical to its survival and success. As a leader, you “need to set the right culture,” says Tao Peng, President of Airbnb China. “Everybody should grow. Growth is most important for your employees and it will look [like tough love]. An easy mistake to make is just being nice to people, but not thinking about their growth. Focus on each employee’s growth, and how they can reach their full potential.”

On the hiring side, Tao Peng adds that an ideal candidate should “come with a growth mentality”. “People should have a very strong desire to grow, and also should get used to change. They should view [changes] as a growth opportunity.”

Knowing the importance of company culture and values, CEO and founder of Zoom Eric Yuan set out on defining those “[right from] day one” of the company’s inception, which set the course for Zoom’s focus.

“Our company culture is delivering happiness and our company’s value is care,” Eric says. This simple philosophy has a trickle-down effect to all its functions - especially on assembling the right team. Distilling this down to a one-sentence takeaway for all founders, it is this: “We want to hire those people who can grow themselves along with our company’s growth.”

“We focus on hiring employees who can fit very well into our culture. We don’t only look at those employees with great experience, great education and background; we really focus on self-motivation and a self-learning mentality. I think that’s really important,” he stresses.

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