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1Mby1M Virtual Accelerator Investor Forum: With Michael Smerklo, Co-founder and Managing Director at Next Coast Ventures 2021 (Part 4)

Posted on Monday, May 24th 2021

Sramana Mitra: There are three trends that I think have accelerated. People are at home and are working at home. Their whole social life has gone out of the window. There is more family time when you have the right conditions and so forth, but people also have a lot more time to think.

One of the phenomena out of this is people have started tinkering with doing a company on the side. They held on to their job, and they started thinking about starting a company on the side. In our program, we have a name for this. It’s called Bootstrapping with a Paycheck. We identified this phenomenon a while back and we started institutionalizing it.

We have built a lot of companies in this mode where people do the validation. They hold on to their job and once things are looking like it’s going to go somewhere, that is when they quit their jobs. This phenomenon has accelerated with COVID. An opposite side of the coin for this trend is the rise of solo entrepreneurs. The technology startup industry looks down upon solo entrepreneurs.

We are big believers in solo entrepreneurs, especially coupled with virtual companies. It is an interesting phenomenon. One of my favorite examples is the story of ServiceNow. Fred Luddy started ServiceNow as a solo entrepreneur. He just had a lot of domain knowledge, and he built a product by himself; and two other people started selling the product before any venture capital. Eventually, he went on to raise lots of venture capital and went the traditional route, but he is a solo entrepreneur.

We should be careful about vilifying solo entrepreneurs. Investors don’t like a solo entrepreneur. Y-combinators reject solo entrepreneurs. They should take into account that ServiceNow is a $100-billion-plus company started by a solo entrepreneur.

My message to this audience of people who are tinkering with entrepreneurship while dealing with COVID from home is that don’t be discouraged. Continue down your path. If you have specific domain knowledge with which to crack specific problems, you should be able to build companies. What do you think about this point of view?

Michael Smerklo: I LOVE it. One of the things that have been a benefit of work from home is that you suddenly have a lot of free time. I used to live in the Valley, and I would go 19 miles go to work. It would take me an hour and 15 minutes for each way to go to work.

Suddenly, you have an hour of your commute each way freed up. Think about the time in your day that has been freed up to pursue this. Secondly, I have written a book about entrepreneurship. I will make a shameless plug because all of the proceeds go to charity. It’s called Mr. Monkey and Me: A Real Survivor Guide for Entrepreneurs. The world needs more entrepreneurs. It needs more diversity in entrepreneurship and it needs more mentally healthy entrepreneurs.

So many people I meet think that you have to have the next Facebook or Starbucks and the voice in them says, “Your idea isn’t big enough.” Every great business and even the venture-backed funded businesses and you realize that you don’t need venture capital to get going. If you could avoid venture capital and bootstrap your business, do it. You can earn more, you own more. You will make more money and you have more control. I am a big advocate of that. 

This segment is part 4 in the series : 1Mby1M Virtual Accelerator Investor Forum: With Michael Smerklo, Co-founder and Managing Director at Next Coast Ventures 2021
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