Paul Orlando [about.me/porlando] runs a lean startup bootcamp called Startups Unplugged [startupsunplugged.com/bootcamp] and is also co-founder of AcceleratorHK [acceleratorhk.com], a mobile startup accelerator. Previously, he co-founded a startup in New York and worked in telecom in China. He focuses on early-stage startups (pre product-market fit). Paul has a BA from Cornell and an MBA from Columbia. He has presented data and entrepreneurial tales in Asia and the US at events including InvestHK, BizSpark, Make a Difference Asia, Columbia, StartupsHK, Kairos Society, DorkBot, and the Levin Institute. He also had lots of fun helping build a 2012 TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon winner.
“Early-stage mobile startups doing hybrid development: this accelerator is for you. AcceleratorHK is a three month accelerator based in Hong Kong, focused on mobile startups doing hybrid development with HTML5. We have a full program in the Lean Startup and Customer Development techniques, mentors, and technical help to make cross-platform development easier. Forbes just named Hong Kong the #1 tech capital to watch after Silicon Valley and New York: http://www.startupshk.com/forbes-names-hong-kong-1-tech-capital-to-watch-after-silicon-valley-and-new-york/
Apply here: http://www.f6s.com/acceleratorhk2 “
To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link
Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic
Can you share your top lessons from running a lean startup bootcamp called Startups Unplugged?
"....Get the local community behind you....Go out and interact with your potential customers very early on....Make any program that you do very relevant to the individuals in the program itself...."
Paul explains the essence of lean startups and customer development and shares some best practices.
"....These are two terms that I usually use together (lean startups and customer development) only to remind people that they are related....I usually talk about both of them together and I use best practices from both...."
Is this also tied in with the concept called MVP (Minimal Viable Product)?
"....At the end of the day, if you want to do a startup you've got to make it into a business and you need to have customers that you are serving. Using MVP techniques are ways to help you figure out early on what you should be spending your time building (or if you should be building anything at all)...."
Are there some useful and helpful readings and/or people that you can recommend?
"....Steve Blank's "The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win" (if there is anything like a startup bible this is probably it)....Another book and tool to use is: Business Model Generation by Alex Osterwalder....The Lean Startup by Eric Ries is also a great book as an introduction and then when you're ready to go a little deeper then read the other two books...."
Can you comment on Startup Genome, Startup Compass and Blackbox Accelerator?
"....The best thing is that you can read it and decide what is really most useful to you as an individual entrepreneur or as a collective community; it's a great way to think through where you want to be in the next few years....Overall I do take this with a grain of salt, I don't think it's gospel, but I'm always happy to look at data that's been collected across a spectrum of people...."
You've talked about collecting data. Is that available through AcceleratorHK or your Startups Unplugged? Is there a place where some of the experiences that you've been able to obtain through your career are accessible publically?
"....The data that's publically accessible (whether you call it data or not), you can really find it best through two blogs. For the Accelerator: www.stephenforte.net....A blog that I write: http://startupsunplugged.com/....I've also been maintaining a list of startups in Hong Kong: http://wearehktech.com/....On the AcceleratorHK website you can see the list of the first cohort that graduated last month (February 2013) and links to their sites....."
From your past experiences, including founding a New York start-up and your focus on early-stage start-ups, what are the stages for successful start-ups?
"....For all the start-ups that I work with, before we meet for the first time, I usually have them listen to a recording by somebody at a storytelling event called The Moth. Ari Handel tells the story called 'Don't Fall in Love with your Monkey' where he describes very well how as a scientific researcher, he was first clouded by falling in love with test subject and then some of the things he had to do to get past that....It's great to be passionate about a problem or a market that you're serving, but if I were to add one stage to what Steve Blank already described, it would be this pre-stage of 'don't fall in love with your idea' — be open to potentially having to kill your idea...."
What success recommendations can you provide from building a 2012 TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon winner?
"....We tend to think it's all about coding, but when it comes to the judging part of the Hackathon, it's actually not about coding at all. It's about doing something that might be something unusual, maybe something timely and then presenting it well....I recommend anyone who is going to be involved to run a start-up of their own, or is going to join one or maybe just exploring this idea that they might one day want to be involved with a start-up, to participate in a Hackathon...."
What are the operational details behind making your current AcceleratorHK, a successful mobile start-up accelerator?
"....A few things are standard and a few are a bit more individual to ourselves....Where I think we are a bit different is that we are a little bit more hands-on than is typical....The other thing is that we have a great selection of mentors that we work with and these are people who are really involved with these start-ups....When you are evaluating the program or you are evaluating someone you are going to work with, think about whether your goals are aligned with the accelerator...."
In the actual operational details of an accelerator you have to choose a cohort. How do you go about doing that?
"....In our case and certainly in the case of many accelerators, you can get a lot of applications for a limited number of spots and at times it is very difficult to choose among a large group of talented applicants. But I like to look for a few things: People who are coachable....A good mix of technical and business skills....Having some past experience....Being really open to participating....Good mix of ideas...."
What does demo day look like? How did you organize your demo day and what made the top start-ups outstanding and special?
"....A good demo day for me is one where everyone is able to present themselves very well....I always find that in any of these events, you should really look at it as the people you are going to meet, the idea exchange — it's potentially finding that other partner, customer, investor that comes out of it and start-ups that do well go in with their own goal in mind. It's a nice way to end a program, but it's also just a beginning of the next phase of your own development...."
In terms of the global environment can you share tips about the global entrepreneurship environment? Is there anything that you can recommend?
"....Oddly enough, there can be a lot of commonality in the way people think through business ideas and what they are interested in....Some of it is good in the sense there are common problems that people have, and start-ups are addressing basic human problems and needs that come no matter where you are in the world. There are also things that are more faddish or stylish at the time and this perhaps we should be a little more guarded against...."
How will accelerators change the entrepreneurial ecosystem globally?
"....As a whole, apart from reducing risk and making it easier for early-stage entrepreneurs to get something going, I also think it's also helping to change the ways that people think about building something...."
Do you feel computing should be a recognized profession on par with accounting, medicine and law with demonstrated professional development, adherence to a code of ethics, personal responsibility, public accountability, quality assurance and recognized credentials? [See www.ipthree.org and the Global Industry Council, http://www.ipthree.org/about-ip3/global-advisory-council]
"....I'm coming at this from a very different angle. The start-ups that I work with are typically not working on issues of national security and certainly are not working on issues of life and death or serious projects in that sense....I think there is room for both and I certainly see that there are situations where you would want recognized credentials for people who are working on certain projects. It's not what I tend to be involved with, but I can certainly see the need....And certainly to what you were describing earlier, adherence to a code of ethics, personal responsibility, public accountability that's a whole different matter...."
If you were conducting this interview, what questions would you ask, and then what would be your answers?
"....What do you think the long-lasting impact of lean start-up and customer development would be?....What are some of the other things you have done in the past that are completely unrelated to technology, but which have impact on the way you are working today?...."
Paul, with your demanding schedule, we are indeed fortunate to have you come in to do this interview. Thank you for sharing your deep experiences with our audience.
Music by Sunny Smith Productions and Shaun O'Leary