Tech titans tell Kiwi startups 'it's okay to be ambitious'

The Founders Fund's Scott Noland at Creative HQ in Wellington earlier this week.

The Founders Fund's Scott Noland at Creative HQ in Wellington earlier this week.

Silicon Valley's biggest brains think Kiwi entrepreneurs are quickly catching up to them.

Some of tech industry's youngest and most successful businessmen imparted advice and even a rap song to 150 people from Wellington's start-up scene at an event organised by Creative HQ on Wednesday.

They were joined by the father figure of the local start-up scene, Xero boss Rod Drury, who in a rare moment of public introspection acknowledged that Xero had probably entered the United States market a year early.

"In hindsight maybe we should have delayed the US for another year but we were under a lot of pressure to get started because it is such a big market," Drury said.

Scott Nolan, 33, a partner in United States' venture capital company Founders Fund which has US$2 billion under management, including a stake in Xero, was one of the star attractions.

He said the fund and its best-known partner, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, remained very happy with their investment in the cloud software firm. "We don't worry about short term fluctuations," he said, referring to Xero's decline from its highs on the NZX.

Nolan, a former senior engineer at rocket company SpaceX and former chief executive of social media company Sochi.com, is in New Zealand scouting for new investment opportunities for Founders Fund in the information technology and biotechnology fields. New Zealand was "catching up quickly" with Silicon Valley, he said.

Fellow American entrepreneur Brian Monahan drew thunderous applause after pulling off a brave rap praising New Zealand's virtues. Brian Monahan and his brother Matthew, both in their 20s,  co-founded Inflection, which helps people control their online personas, and relocated from California to Upper Hutt this year.

Inflection employs 250 staff in San Francisco, Tel Aviv, the Ukraine and Britain and sold offshoot Archives.com to Ancestry.com for US$100m in 2012.

Sam Altman, 29, president of Silicon Valley seed funding company Y Combinator, which has helped fund 700 start-ups, including some in New Zealand, advised entrepreneurs gathered at the Wellington event that it was "okay to be ambitious".

WANT SOME ADVICE?

Scott Nolan: Only start a company if you think it has to exist and only you can do it. Recruit through friends and 'friends of friends'. Give equity options to all employees. Don't do something other companies can just copy. You need a well-constructed and realistic model of the world and how you fit into that.

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Sam Altman: Start-ups usually work best with two or three founders; hopefully you won't crash at the same time. Great companies are 'missionary' not mercenary. The best companies talk to users very early, and listen. Be obsessive about customer service and release products in very short cycles.

Brian and Matthew Monahan: Lift the culture of the enterprise by celebrating life events such as birthdays, weddings and births. Find a business partner that balances your skills and attributes. Opportunities abound in digital media and education.

Rod Drury: The enterprise software-as-a-service sector is huge and has many problems; there are better products crying out to be built. A few years ago a lot of businesses could be started on a shoestring, but now there are businesses that will be successful just because of their ability to raise money. The choice is no longer between being an entrepreneur and taking a boring day job; you can be an 'internal entrepreneur' by joining a company like Xero and grabbing as much responsibility as you like.

 - Stuff

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