It’s exactly one month since the Peru Venture Capital Conference where I got to meet and interview Brian Wong, the keynote speaker and author of “The Cheat Code: Going Off Script to Get More, Go Faster, and Shortcut Your Way to Success.” I had a chance to read the book digitally before meeting Brian and just got my hard copy from Amazon delivered to my parents house. I thought it would be good to share some key thoughts from the book relevant to the Peruvian entrepreneurship ecosystem.
If you don’t know Brian Wong, he’s the CEO and founder of Kiip, and recognized by the Wall Street Journal and CNBC as the youngest entrepreneur to raise Venture Capital – he has raised over US$30M for his startup by the age of 27. His book, while written and geared towards young, and seemingly male audiences, does have a lot to offer all of us – this coming from a female “middle-aged Gen Xer” – a group he describes in his book. Here are some highlights around failure, fundraising, pitching and networking.
The culture for startups in Peru is changing, and that is a good thing
In his book, Brian writes, “If you’re not failing on occasion, you’re not aiming high enough.” Failure is often seen as a badge of honor in Silicon Valley where venture capitalists want to hear about what you’ve learned from previous startup attempts. In Peru and much of Latin American, there has not historically been such acceptance of failure, particularly in business. But that culture has been changing, particularly in Lima over the past 5 to 10 years. Government programs like StartUp Peru, make it OK culturally to take risks – after all, the government is funding it! Newly minted university grads seem to have a higher tolerance for the financial and cultural risk of going the startup route than even five years ago where you might be seen as crazy not to take that banking job or go straight into the family business.
Brian also encourages entrepreneurs to speak their minds. “If you passionately disagree with someone, it’s best just to blurt it out and let the cards fall where they may.” This is key in Peru, where a young entrepreneur might feel they don’t want to ruffle the features a board member, angel investor, or other “Tio” of a certain generation. But if done with respect, and with data or experience behind it, it could really make an entrepreneur stand out and gain respect.
Smart money may not be as easy to come by in Lima as in Silicon Valley, but…
Brian gives plenty of advice about fundraising, and it’s important to apply the Peruvian context. “Don’t Treat People with Money and Power Like God” and “Choose your investors Wisely” are both highly relevant, even in Peru, where smart money may be harder to come-by. While it may not be true that we will bump into a potential investor walking down the street like he did in San Francisco, it is true that you should be thoughtful and patient about who your early investors are, as you will be spending a lot of time with them. If they are not adding value via their contacts or connections or advice, make sure they are at least not in your way as you try to grow the business. Some good resources for early investing can be found on the PECAP web site in the “recursos” section.
Pitching – read every line about in the book
Just about every advice Brian gives about pitching is valuable and relevant for our ecosystem in Peru. I’ll be short and sweet in this section…just as he advises.
“Don’t Pitch Your Business – Pitch Yourself…Your company is rarely your primary brand…your main brand is you.” Yes, yes and yes!
“Get to the Point!…The reduction of ideas to their ultimate core is a great bullshit-meter. Simplicity reveals, while complexity conceals.”
One of the things I learned quickly moving to Latin America is that sometimes the US culture of getting right to the point can be off-putting. And that certainly can be true if you are at a networking cocktail or lunch. However, if you are pitching your project and looking for funding or mentorship or something else…get to the point!
All of that said…do use networking as your friend to provide color and context to your pitch. Which brings me to the last topic I want to highlight from the book.
Networking is your friend
Brian writes and talks a lot about serendipity. “Generate Serendipity…This is how serendipity works: Either you hope it happens or you make it happen…Even with luck…great things usually come because you’ve structured your life to put yourself in the path of opportunities, and sooner or later one comes your way.”
Personally, I’m a big believer in “you make it happen.” In Lima there are a ton of networking events and opportunities organized by the government, universities, incubators and accelerators, etc. Even an alumni event from your old high school or university is a great opportunity to connect and reconnect with potential mentors, investors, board members, partners, and fellow entrepreneurs.
For another perspective (in Spanish) on Brian’s talk at the conference, read Mosi Mosquera’s post 7 ideas para avanzar más rápido en tu vida y tu emprendimiento.