Ashish Aggarwal is a deep-tech investor and startup advisor based in San Francisco. He invests in robotics, consumer hardware, IoT solutions, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. He has worked with several entrepreneurs and is responsible for several key strategic corporate acquisitions. He has also been a startup advisor for over 10 years and is a startup mentor at Google Launchpad Accelerator. In this interview, Ashish shares some of the most key advice for every tech entrepreneur looking to make it big.
How important is a mentor for a first-generation tech entrepreneur?
I believe that mentors can provide a lot of value for first-time tech entrepreneurs. Building and scaling a tech company requires an in-depth understanding of many different functions – sales, product, user experience, distribution, partnerships, fundraising, hiring, etc. A founder may be an expert in either one or two areas. As a result, having a complementary team helps in addressing other issues. Mentors are generally people who have experience in a particular field and can guide entrepreneurs to reduce the number of mistakes that they would make otherwise.
Most successful entrepreneurs can point to their trusted support systems (peers, mentors, advisors, team members, etc.) who have played a crucial role in their success. Mentors in certain cases, classify in the ‘been there done that’ category and can help entrepreneurs in focusing and prioritizing on the right issues to solve. Keeping focus is an essential element for nascent startups and mentors can help tremendously. Moreover, mentors have extended network which can also be helpful for entrepreneurs.
Ashish Aggarwal, Early Stage Startup Advisor/VC
What should a tech entrepreneur keep in mind when building the team?
Many people have written great posts on hiring such as Sam Altman’ How to Hire and First Round’s advice to the first-time founders. Here are 4 key suggestions that I offer in this context:
- Hire the people who believe in the overall mission and vision of the company and who would fit well with your culture. Things can get tough in the first few years, so you want people who believe in the overall mission of the company.
- Spend more time on hiring (more than what you think you should).
- Always hire people who are effective and ones you would enjoy working with.
- Don’t compromise on hiring as these people would become critical to the success of your company.
How crucial is the go-to-market strategy for the success of a tech startup?
Go-to-market (GTM) strategy is essential to the success of a tech startup. Getting distribution of the product is a key issue for consumer startups. GTM strategy is also important for enterprise startups because it helps entrepreneurs understand how they will acquire customers. Entrepreneurs should think about GTM strategy from the beginning as it is a critical part of generating revenue.
What are the top 3 qualities that an investor or VC firm admires in a tech entrepreneur?
- Passion for solving a problem with a unique viewpoint that would make the foundation for the startup.
- Grit to keep going when things get tough. Being an entrepreneur is not easy as they may have to go through a lot of highs and lows.
- Taking feedback from customers, mentors, advisors, and VCs and being coachable.
When should a tech entrepreneur say no to an investor?
If the investor doesn’t have a similar vision for the company or thinks differently over next stages of growth for the company – it can put the entrepreneur into a tricky situation. Aligning on short-term and long-term goals is very important. It is extremely difficult for an entrepreneur to remove an investor from the cap table, and so entrepreneurs must also conduct a due diligence on investors.
How important is it for a tech entrepreneur to build their personal brand on social media?
I would say it depends. Having a personal brand for an entrepreneur can help in attracting the top talent from the industry, but we don’t view that as a must-have for the entrepreneur.