Today we speak with Women Innovate Mobile mentor, Christine Ekman.
Christine is the co-founder of Mobile Pulse. She has been advising startups and venture investors for over 12 years at Evolve Adapt Survive. Her clients have included SMARTS (now EMC), NGT (Comcast), Broadsoft, Grotech among many others. Prior to Evolve, Christine worked in mergers and acquisitions for Bay Networks (Nortel) and prior to that she worked as a network design engineer at US WEST (CenturyLink).
What’s the worst mistake a founder can make?
Not paying attention to customers. No matter how much you like your product, if customers don’t like it, you will not succeed.
What’s the most common startup error?
Failure to get the right team – VCs will tell you they invest more in the team than in the idea. Also, the “idea” person is rarely the right person to run the company. Just because you thought of it doesn’t mean you are the right person to be the CEO; hence my title as VP of Business Development.
What does “fail fast” mean to you?
Be willing to try different methods to get to revenue and if they don’t get traction, try something else. In other words, don’t beat a dead horse. You’ll know when it’s working when people are writing you checks.
If you could fix one thing in the startup ecosystem right now, what would it be?
I don’t know that it’s broken. Startups are hard and most fail. That’s a hard reality – just ask any venture capitalist. Don’t be afraid to try again.
What should startups be focusing on right now?
They should focus on innovations in their area of expertise. I’m a network geek so I think about network innovation. But inspiration is needed everywhere, so I would say focus on what you know.
When’s the right time to seek funding?
I think there are two times for funding: the dream stage, when you have a dream and lots of enthusiasm to sell it (Series A or seed round) and then again when you have revenue traction (Series B). Just know that a lot of startups never get past the dream phase, it’s a great accomplishment to get to revenue.
Thoughts on crowdfunding?
I think that Kickstarter has taken that hill. I also have a lot of qualms about crowdfunding as an “investor” mechanism. In Denver, we called that “penny stocks” and a lot of people lost money in the 1990s because they were not qualified to understand the risks involved. Overall, I think that the market for startup capital is difficult and it operates on a “survival of the fittest” mentality. Things die in a Darwinian environment, but things also thrive.
Best advice you’ve ever gotten?
I’d have to say that the advice in Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore is the best resource that startups have at their disposal.
Guess who’s coming for dinner. Who would be your dream dinner guest(s) and why?
I have dinner with my dream dinner guest every night. He’s a VC and in the telecom business so if (big if!) I want to talk business we can, and if not, there are a million other subjects to cover. Plus, he finds me interesting. I’m not certain Michelle Obama would be all that interested in what I’m doing…
Anything else you’d like to add?
I would like to add something I heard at the CU World Affairs conference last year. The panel was talking about microfinance and teaching women in developing countries how to run businesses. I had been really focused on the idea of “women helping women,” but they said that it’s the men who are the most knowledgeable about business in developing countries and they hold the key to teaching women how to succeed. As a member of WIM’s community of startups and investors, don’t be afraid to reach out to the men in your network and let them be part of our success.