Fergus Hurley And The Silicon Valley State Of Mind


Images of Clixtr HQ.

Fergus Hurley, a native of Galway, and a graduate of University College Cork and MIT, now resides in California. He is the CEO of Clixtr. His new venture – Picbounce – is in beta and will be live shortly. In a very short time, he has acquired a lot of experience doing business in Silicon Valley, and he shares some of his thoughts with us here.

We started off by discussing the role of venture captialists (VCs) in Silicon Valley.

”In businesses there are certain things that have to be done every time that are replicable and repeatable, and the same for every business and other things that are unique to that business. You have to excel on the things that are unique and that makes you different because other people are going to be very, very good at doing the business side of things and executing very well. So the VCs are able to execute well on the business side while you are able to innovate well on the product side.

“There are two aspects there. One is the VCs looking at an idea and seeing if it is a good one or not. They can use their pattern-matching skills to look for indicators that tell them that’s a good idea. What are user-growth numbers that are standard for this sort of product at this stage? What is the team that is required to build these sort of products? And so on. When all these elements come together it could look like the next big thing.

“Basically, all good VCs are pattern matchers and that’s one of the good things about being out here is that they are willing to meet new people, whereas in Europe you have to know people really well to get the meeting. Over here, anybody can get a meeting with anybody. They are very open here to people from all over the world.”

So how does one get started in Silicon Valley?

“I think that getting involved with the incubators and co-working spaces in Silicon Valley is a great way to get out and get involved in a very efficient manner. You get these deal-review sessions where the investors come, and these are the top investors in the world, and entrepreneurs can go and just pitch to them.

“Other entrepreneurs in the incubation places can give you a lot of feedback and insight, and a lot of them are very successful entrepreneurs themselves. If you are in one these incubation or innovation centres or co-working spaces, everyone around you is doing a startup. So that’s the best way to get started.

“When we came out and got started we went to Plug and Play Tech Center in Sunnyvale. They have about three hundred companies working in there and their other centres. There might well be mulitple deal-review sessions with venture capitalists in their offices every week.”

But not all of us can go to Silicon Valley for various reasons, family commitments, etc. What about them?

“I think Silicon Valley is an ideology, a way of thinking rather than a place in itself. People think they can create Silicon Valley in other places, but Silicon Valley doesn’t think it is even a place. It’s just a bunch of people working on tons and tons of stuff and just trying lots and lots of experiments. People can be a part of that anywhere in the world.

“The magic of the Web right now is that you don’t need to be here. Before, people would say that and people would believe that you didn’t need to be in Silicon Valley or one of these tech hubs to be successful, but the reality was that at that time you still needed the advice of people.

“Now all these very experienced people are on the Web blogging. I am reading the same blogs that anyone in Galway could read. You can get insight from them about what they think entrepreneurs should be thinking about. So you don’t really need to be here anymore.

  • One, the technology is available to anyone in the world.
  • Two, the Web is available everywhere in the world.
  • Three, all these thought leaders have blogs and books and materials on the Web that you can access from anywhere and be able to learn from.

“One book that is very, very popular among Silicon Valley entrepreneurs is the “Four Steps to the Epiphany” by Steve Blank who is an advisor to our company. I audited his class at Berkeley last semester. He has extremely good insight. His book is very detailed but it’s a great book to start with and his blog is fantastic.”

How have you applied it to your own experience?

“When you are starting out the first time, you come up with this great idea and that great idea is going to change the world, but when you study the history of all these companies that are very successful they ‘pivoted,’ which is the word they use for this. They mean that you learn a lot when you do this stuff and when you learn a lot your assumptions change. Your assumptions on how the market would react and what was going to be successful on day one change over time and you have to be willing to change the business as well.

“People in Silicon Valley are very accepting of people pivoting. If you are learning from people that certain things work, and certain things don’t work, then take those learnings on and include them in your future plans.

Picbounce which we are launching shortly has taken a lot of the learnings from the Clixtr project. What we found is a ton of people want to post their pictures to Facebook and Twitter because that’s where their friends already are. They want to do that as fast and as easily as possible. You launch the application: it goes straight into the camera. You take the photo and it says upload to Facebook and Twitter, you press upload and then it’s back to the camera.

“We can do a lot of interesting things around that using geolocation. If you and me were at the same event, we can share media together across the Picbounce network based on its knowledge of who our mutual friends are: instead of sharing with everyone else at the whole event. It’s all about leveraging the social graph connections as well as the time and location information associated with the media. There is also a reminder function to remind you to take photos to make a record or a diary of your life.”

How do you manage all this?

“It’s a matter of being efficient with your time – you can’t do everything. You have to have people help you with the different aspects. But I have to say that with these consumer internet companies that the CEO has to be the product manager. They have to know all aspects of the product like the design, the development and the distribution.

“One of the key learnings I have from being out here is that there’s tons of people who want to start a consumer internet company, and think they have great idea,s but they need to learn the skills to be able to build these companies in terms of design, development, distribution. Otherwise, you can’t even hire great people if you don’t know what you’re hiring people to do.”

Is there a final piece of your directly-experienced learning that you can share with us?

“People in Galway and the rest of the world need to accept that if the first idea doesn’t work, try the next one, try the next one, keep trying, and over time you’ll hit it, but it’s not going to be overnight.”

If you want to hear more from Fergus you can watch his presentation from BlogTalk 2010 here.

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