From lawyer to the creator of a new 140 character online encyclopedia to help entrepreneurs. Find out what this bite-sized content is doing for startups and how Peter Szymanski got the idea to start his latest endeavor.
Peter Szymanski has 14+ years experience helping startups get funded and grow.
He started as a big firm lawyer in Silicon Valley, then became an operations executive at a tech startup and helped it raise $35M, and grow from 7 to 40+ people before it was sold to Google.
Peter then started his own business helping entrepreneurs get funded and build business partnerships combining his MBA and legal background to help build search engines, social networks, and international ecommerce businesses. Over the past four years, he has been a turnaround CEO, angel investor, Board member, and his latest endeavor is Silicon Valley Counsel, a new encyclopedia built for fast-thinking entrepreneurs. All of the information is mobile-friendly, easily shareable, and bite-sized…offered in 140 characters or less!
Think Like A Journalist Quote
If you think education is expensive, try ignorance – Derek Bok, former President of Harvard University
Entrepreneurship is the most noble profession.
While a politician can take tax dollars and redistribute to the needy, and a charity can take donations and feed the poor, only an entrepreneur can create value where none existed before. Through innovation – through human thinking – an entrepreneur can create a product or service that benefits others, but also employs people, empowers them to their potential, feeds their families, educates their children… This is why entrepreneurship is sweeping the world, and there are entrepreneurs everywhere from Central Europe to Latin America to Asia and of course here in California.
Peter: I appreciate that quote as it’s timeless and everyone who has achieved success can relate to it. As entrepreneurs, we really have to show up every day, be relentless, be ready, and be resourceful. I also love this quote because it’s under 140 characters and proves that you don’t need a lot of words to make someone understand a principle.
It’s the basic core behind Silicon Valley Counsel. Entrepreneurship is a philosophy. It’s not science, it’s not math. It’s a way of thinking, of approaching a problem, and all of the principles in Silicon Valley Counsel are also just as timeless and just as helpful for us entrepreneurs.
Peter: To be honest, my real highlight, what people will remember me most for is still ahead of me. What I am most proud of is being creative, resourceful and learning every day. I don’t want to slow down. I don’t want to stop working. There is so much to learn out there, and so many things that can be built if one knows what they are doing.
I have worked in startups my whole life and can say that building a startup is exciting and interesting, but for me what I really value and respect are people who do it themselves. They build their business around them, and they make their own rules. It’s hard to believe that as a lawyer in the past just over six months, I have travelled to South America and Europe, presenting to startups and entrepreneurs, learning about their business, giving them advice that helps them succeed. That to me, going back to that first quote is what’s so exciting. And I hear it from them as well… it’s just something that’s forcing itself out of me, and so I think if there is one thing I would identify as my career highlight, and this I am sure is at the top of the list of anyone who is successful – it’s a passion for what you do. And that passion does not have to be there initially. Sometimes it’s hard work to find it, but as long as you’re following what it is that’s important, it happens. So I think that’s something I am just thrilled about and proud of… I have been able to find what I am excited about and I can help others to do what they want to do, what they dream about doing. And again that’s what this new endeavor is about… it’s about empowering entrepreneurs to make the best choices. To not make mistakes. To not reinvent the wheel.
When It Didn’t Work
Peter: It didn’t work many times, and I think it’s because I really wanted to succeed. I think it’s most important to really be focused – and this is cliché – but focused on the journey not the destination. Again from Aristotle, to be focused on being excellent every day, not being the best. That may be the case for the select few who possess all of the things necessary: talent, skill, luck, but even then it’s all so subjective. Who is the best, there is no Super Bowl for entrepreneurship and even the most respected entrepreneurs from Elon Musk to Mark Zuckerberg to Steve Jobs… they are all just people. They have accomplished extraordinary things, but I bet it wasn’t only because they wanted to be successful. I think they did it because they couldn’t imagine doing anything else, and it happened that way. And they would be doing the same thing even if the market changed and they had to find another path. They would just adjust and head down that path. I hear and see that from all of the top I have worked with. It’s why entrepreneurs don’t stop. That’s the way I feel.
Top Tips From Peter On Entreprenurship
Start with the market. Mary Meeker’s annual presentation on top internet and mobile trends is absolutely fascinating to review. Marc Andreessen from Andreessen Horowitz puts out amazing content in tweet storms that gives everyone the ability to see how they think in real time. We are really blessed with Twitter to be able to see that.
For me, start with the market, means looking at those trends. For example this year it turns out the 87% of millennials say that the smart phone never leaves their side, and 80% of them say that it’s the first thing they reach for in the morning.
I bet from the people listening to this podcast, the numbers are similar. Moreover, millennialls are part of the demand economy. That includes Uber and Airbnb and free lancing and entrepreneurship, and these segments of the population, they value flexibility, and investing in themselves, and being independent, learning and training in things they like to do.
That’s a significant shift from years ago, and so that kind of communications and values are things to consider in building brands and businesses.
Today we have the instant gratification apps. We press a button on our phone and a very nice person shows up to drive us to a restaurant or the airport. We can order a great apartment in any city in the world by pressing a button. It’s empowering. In many ways it’s just as empowering as turning a key to start a vehicle that can take us to many places fast. We don’t think twice about an auto as this incredible powerful technology, but compared to the horse and buggy, wow, that provides so much more freedoms and options.
And same with all of these technologies that are coming out. I think they are changing the way people behave and communicate, and what they value and what their goals are. It’s important to be on that wave of communication, whether it’s podcasting or tweeting, or in the future communicating through virtual reality and wearable technology.
So my tips would be:
follow people you respect on Twitter, they have something to say
keep up with the latest mega trends by seeing what tech leaders like Mary Meeker put out every year
think five years ahead when thinking about your business, because that’s an advantage when opportunities come about to become part of that reality
Think Like A Journalist!
You have been hired to help an ailing company that’s about to financially collapse. Its reputation’s shot. You have one month, a $1000 budget, a smartphone, and a laptop. How do you begin to turn this company around? [25:23]
Start with your most loyal customers if there are any. Ask them what’s most important to them. Then figure out where to find more similarly minded people. Use the $1000 to get the message to them in the most resourceful way. Social media provides a platform like that. But it’s a bit surface like, it’s tough to get beyond the noise at first. So with first customers, really have to find them, talk to them one on one, understand them and get them to convert and become evangelists.
I faced a similar situation actually. I took over a company that was in the medical hydration space. It was a super Gatorade that certain people loved. We had a football team from the SEC that worked out in Southern humidity in the summer and gave it to their players. There were doctors who recommended this product to people who had trouble hydrating. There were our military forces abroad that requested it in their backpacks. We kind of had a good product, but the company was poorly run until that point and needed direction. That’s what I did. I spoke with all of these people and I took detailed accounts and I told that to investors. And they were able to confirm and believe the story and the $1000 became a lot more. So it really starts with knowing the customer, and what they want. That’s where to spend resources early on, getting directly in front of the customer.
The year is 2025… What is your prediction for the future of TV, news media, and brand journalism…and how will it affect businesses?
Peter: Virtual reality will be amazing. If anyone has a chance to try it, they should. Right now when I try it, I come away dizzy or like I have been on a roller coaster after eating chocolate cake. But I guess that goes away with time. But people are spending so much time getting information from devices already. This is the next step. It’s why Facebook bought Oculus, and why Mark Zuckerberg is such a smart guy. He is thinking ahead.
The other part is artificial intelligence. We all saw Terminator, but it’s a different kind of learning that’s already been winning chess games for a long time, and keeps learning on itself. It’s unpredictable where that goes, it’s an open world. And it will be entertaining. Especially combining virtual reality and artificial intelligence, I think that combo will be unimaginable right now, but it will be there in 10 years and it will be interesting.
If Twitter and podcasting and social media are ways to get our messages across today, those will be the platforms in 2025, so better be ready.