Steven Hoffman (aka Captain Hoff) is CEO of Founders Space. After I was introduced via Happioh CEO Soulaima Gourani, I asked my startup friends and they confirmed he’s THE guy when it comes to startups. If you see one pattern in the interview with him it’s this: founders do a really crappy job simply listening to their customers. This leads to communications problems, marketing blockades, and poor market fit.
Why the VP of MTV ignored calls, but finally reached out.
One of his first startups was perfect for MTV. Doing their research, they found the Senior VP of MTV and started leaving voicemails but he never called back. Their luck changes after one of Hoffman’s co-founders was invited to speak on a panel at CES. After the panel, a man approached her and said he wanted to do business. That man introduced himself as the Senior VP of MTV, to which she responded, “I know, we’ve been leaving you voicemails!” Within three weeks, they had 350k of cash in the bank from the CES Panel. What changed?
PR is what changed. The advice here is simple: find where your customers are hanging out and fight like crazy to get in front of them in those trusted spaces. Entrepreneurs think their targets will see the value they provide, but they absolutely will not. The environment must be correct.
Founders Routinely Get Stuck On “Idea”
Hoffman also speaks about how founders get stuck on their original strategy and suffer from the founder-baby problem—like a new parent, they think their baby is the cutest, but to everyone else, they’ve seen thousands and will see thousands more.
Because founders suffer from this bias, they build a product people don’t care about. YouTube was originally a video dating site, but no one cared. Later they discovered the value of using the platform when they wanted to send a video to someone. They used their platform to share the link, and that is when they found market fit.
This is why Hoffman says, as early as possible you must go to your customer and listen to them intently. Don’t try to sell them, but “try to figure out with them what to do next,” he said. Don’t become defensive and protect your idea.
Nailing the pitch. Communication is crucial
Nail the elevator pitch. Hoffman recommends standing on an actual elevator and pitching your startup. If you can’t do it, you have a severe problem. So many entrepreneurs can’t communicate what they do. They focus on technology no one cares about.
If you can’t communicate your value in a simple way, you will fail. This may sound obvious, but I see thousands of people pitch to me on this very podcast and after numerous emails, I still have no idea what they do.
If you’re failing, do this now
“If you’re facing failure, it’s not personal unless you make it personal,” Hoffman says. “It doesn’t reflect on you. Being an entrepreneur is a process of failing over and over and over again until you figure out the right direction, and the right thing you should be doing.”
If you are looking down the barrel of failure, do these three things how:
1. Don’t delay the failure
Entrepreneurs try to do everything but recognize failure. You need to recognize you’re heading in the wrong direction.
2. Recognize you are failing and look back and learn.
Check your emotions and look at your failure as a scientist. Given this failure, what should I do next?
3. Go to the customer.
Ask the core customers you are targeting and tell them you recognize the product isn’t a great fit. Then ask them what challenges they are currently facing.
Steven Hoffman, CEO of Founders Space
Steven Hoffman is CEO of Founders Space. It’s one of the leading startup accelerators in the world, with over 50 partners in 22 countries. Ranked the #1 incubator for overseas startups by Forbes and Entrepreneur Magazines.
- Check out Founders Space
- Buy Steven Hoffman’s latest book Surviving A Startup
- Buy Steven Hoffman’s The Five Forces that Change Everything