SM: Yes. I think one of the points that you raised earlier was that keeping on top of your email is no longer enough because messages are coming at you from all over the place. Even with Facebook messages, you can have them forwarded to your email, or you can have your LinkedIn messages forwarded. But if it’s on the wall or on Twitter, just in the Twitter stream, it’s a lot of keeping track of stuff.
JL: Yes. I feel like every day, I have to go log in to five or six different places to get all the information that might be relevant to me.
SM: Other thoughts on where the industry is going and where you would point entrepreneurs? What trends do you see? Where do you see interesting developments?
JL: The interesting thing to me is that we have such a hard time predicting what the trends are going to be in the future. Like I mentioned with ShareFile, back when we launched, I had some friends who were VCs. I floated the idea by them back in late 2005, and it didn’t seem like an interesting idea to most people when we actually launched the product. Whatever the conventional wisdom is about what the hot trend is within the VC community and that kind of popular discussion is, usually, the hot trend of a year, year and a half ago. So, my advice to entrepreneurs is usually to take any of the trends with a grain of salt. The best ideas are the ones that people don’t think are the hot trends but eventually will be the hot trends. The way that we decided with ShareFile to pursue the product was that I would talk to some VCs, and they would say, “Eh, it seems like that’s an idea out of the year 2000. It’s been done.” But then I would go to a cocktail party or something and talk to business executives, whether they were in charge of non-profits or law firms or accounting firms, when I described what it did, almost everybody said it was something that he could use.
I would encourage entrepreneurs to go back and bounce their ideas off of ordinary business people and consumers and use that as their inspiration for what to build next, rather than look at some of the macro trends.
SM: Our guidance to entrepreneurs is to focus on customers as opposed to investors. Investors cannot identify or validate trends until much later in the game. Early emerging trends happen in customers not in investors.
JL: Exactly. That’s been consistent with what we’ve experienced in our journey.
SM: I have one last question for you. What’s happening with the Research Triangle Park area in terms of entrepreneurship right now, and how plugged are you into that circuit?
JL: I’m very plugged into it. I would say it’s an area that has a lot of potential and has been growing a lot. One of the benefits of Research Triangle Park is we’ve got some great universities. There’s Duke, which is where I went to college, UNC, NC State and several others within an hour of each other. For example, Duke, UNC and NC State are all within a half hour each other. Raleigh-Durham is one of the most educated cities in the country and the second most educated in terms of college degrees per capita. There’s a large educated population. Cost of living is fairly low, so the cost of actually hiring employees is lower. You could probably hire two employees here for every one that you could hire in an expensive cost of living place like Silicon Valley or New York. It’s a friendly environment for entrepreneurship and job creation. I think it has a lot of potential. Right now, there’s a large presence of larger software companies like IBM and Cisco and Glaxo, but we’re still up and coming with really big startup successes. Red Hat is one of the big public companies that came out of the area and is still here. There’re several like ShareFile and iContact.
I’m very plugged in to the area. I’m involved with an organization called EO, which you may be familiar with, Entrepreneurs’ Organization. I was the president of the chapter in this area for a couple of years and have been in the group for a long time. Since the acquisition by Citrix, my wife is also an entrepreneur, and we’re starting up a startup co-working space where companies would be able to rent desks or multiple desks on a month-to-month basis just to encourage people to get started there. And I do a lot with the Duke entrepreneurship program as well. I think it’s a great place to start a business. It has its advantages and disadvantages compared to Silicon Valley. I’m really happy we started here, and we’re happy to continue to growing in this area.
SM: Great. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Jesse.
JL: Thank you, my pleasure.