Making Elephants Fly with the Godfather of Silicon Valley - Steven Hoffman (Captain Hoff)
By Madhu Sundararajan
Listen as a Podcast HERE
Welcome back to another episode of "The Perfect Pitch Show" where Brandon Burns, Head of Community - Runway Virtual, interviews small business Founders, Entrepreneurs and Angel Investors in their respective fields about their successful start-up journey.
In this article, we break down the gold nuggets to making a start-up fly from our interview with Steven Hoffman (Captain Hoff) , CEO & Chairman of Founders Space and the Author of "Make Elephants Fly" and "Surviving a Start-up". Steven’s energy, expertise and attitude towards start-ups, entrepreneurs and all players in the ecosystem was a breath of fresh air. He also shared with us his work at Foundersspace his incubator across the globe and his plans to expand his operations down under in Australia!
A day in the life of Captain Hoff
Steven loves to travel across the world. A staggering 70% of his time was spent travelling last year to help his customers who are spread across 22 countries. Having been part of three venture funded & two bootstrapped start-ups, with over 50 partners, Steven is looking to expand Foundersspace in Australia to help incubators and accelerators. His world-class incubator Foundersspace is already flying high in San Francisco and China!
Steven’s core passions are to mentor, invest and help entrepreneurs fly high in their ventures. His team gives great attention to detail. The Captain’s incubator cohorts begin with painting the entrepreneurs’ journey map, followed by product market fit and connecting with new investors. Each one of Steven’s crew members were entrepreneurs themselves who have experienced a number of successes and failures from working with a myriad of people. One key statement he mentioned was "The subject matter combined with the process/methodology, guided by the instructor will instinctively inform the potential dead ends in the business which are pivotal for avoiding blatant errors early on in the life cycle of a product/business."
When asked about one productivity hack which helps Steven gain an extra 5% of productivity daily, he says, efficiency can be obtained if one focusses on top three critical activities for the day. Steven starts-off with a coffee followed by relentless concentration on completing the first priority task on his list. By doing so, Steven gains huge momentum. Steven is also of the opinion that social media first up in the morning can be tempting and is an endless vortex which has the potential to squander the entire morning regime. Steven concludes, he sets aside specific time for emails and deletes them when done. All of these practices help Steven achieve greater efficiency throughout the day.
Unique value proposition and building momentum
Foundersspace mission is to partner with entrepreneurs and travel deep by dissecting all nuances of business. Steven quotes no one size fits all, hence each business demands varying levels of involvement and time. Steven’s instructors relish short sessions and equally love long term contracts which span across months or sometimes even years. The feedback model which Steven adopts makes the whole process extremely transparent in communicating constructive feedback. Steven concludes with three great start-up examples. One being an end to end corporate travel start-up, secondly, a gene editing Asia based start-up which is for detecting cancer early and lastly, drone for fire-fighting especially useful for sky scrapers to help people escape the building when on fire.
Mistakes are proof that you are trying
Steven is quick to admit that he has made tonnes of mistakes in his illustrious career. He remembers in the late 1990s, when one of his start-ups got an incredible offer and his venture capitalist suggested not to take the deal. Steven reluctantly followed the advice and the very next year, the dot com bubble burst and there was a free fall on the valuation. The key lesson Steven mentioned, is to trust our gut always as no one can see the future.
Second mistake that was made, Steven says, keeping a grumpy Engineer for too long in the game. Steven recalls the times when his engineer would call the shots being in a power position and there used to be umpteen futile attempts to even have a simple conversation. It took a while to realize bringing in a new engineer to look at things from a different perspective. The whole lesson was, Steven concludes, nobody is indispensable.
‘There is always two sides to the coin if you have the patience to see’
Best advice, Steven recalls, is from his mentor who is another venture capitalist. In a big strategic sale, after pitching the idea, Steven says, the sooner we create the situation for the decision makers to say “No”, the faster the outcome of the sale will be. “Life in sales is never easy, especially when you are pitching to large corporations, you end up spending months sucking up your precious time before calling the shots”. Steven concludes, “if we can set aside a time limit with the decision makers and be upfront about it, there is every chance the deal is made soon.”
Time isn’t the main thing, it is the only thing, Miles Davis
In the 21st century, Steven is of the opinion that the goal posts of success keep changing. Entrepreneurs, who are stuck with the same vision and not re-inventing themselves will certainly fail. If you want to change the world, start with yourself, Mahatma Gandhi. Steven’s tip for entrepreneurs is not to prove the vision, rather to have an open mind to understand what customers think & feel about the vision. ‘The sooner we kill our ego and listen to customers, the faster we go an inch closer to our vision’
References and suggested readings
Steven’s best-selling book Make Elephants Fly, helps with all the ammunition for any business to thrive and fly high.
The book is designed to help implement the same innovation methodologies and processes as Silicon Valley’s top start-ups. It will teach you exactly how successful CEOs come up with breakthrough products and services.
Another of Steven’s gold nuggets is his new book Surviving a start-up, encompassing everything entrepreneurs need to know to overcome seemingly impossible odds, develop innovative growth strategies, avoid costly mistakes, improve their leadership skills, and navigate their way to success.
In addition to the above, Steven also recommends the videos in Foundersspace
Ask from the community
Steven is a great public speaker. He would love to share his fun experiences via any conferences and online meet-ups and get "Down-Under" ASAP!
Founders Space: https://FoundersSpace.com
Online Program: https://FoundersSpace.com/online/