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What can get a startup founder fired?

The StartUp Conference - Courthouse, Redwood City, CA
The StartUp Conference - Courthouse, Redwood City, CA
Michal Lenchner

In the opening session at the Startup Conference 2013, Jerry Kaplan talked about an unexpected predicament: getting fired from your own startup. Kaplan is a serial entrepreneur, an executive, a technical innovator, and an author, who is currently teaching in the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at Stanford University. He said that although startup founders look to catch the attention of investors, funding can come with the contingency that the investors might want a different CEO to run your very own company...

The Startup Conference and The Startup Fair were held at Courthouse Square in Redwood City, CA last Thursday, giving the opportunity for entrepreneurs and founders to pitch, showcase, network with like-minded people, and get advice from leading investors. Several investors were in attendance, looking for new opportunities and for promising new businesses. Nima Adelkhani, Founder of PITME, hosted the conference and ran the well-designed program. PITME is a startup acceleration program that is dedicated to support Middle Eastern entrepreneurs and to build a bridge between the Middle East and Silicon Valley. Mr. Adelkhani has been involved in various acceleration organizations, such as the Founder Institute, and Founder Showcase, and he helped launch over 300 startups.

Jerry Kapalan talked about the five main things that can get a startup founder fired:

1. Having unclear goals and mission. Communicating the goals clearly is critical.

2. Not sharing the credit with the entire team seems to reflect on the founder. Trying to prove that you are smart is bad.

3. Being greedy instead on focusing on the solution to a real problem.

Furthermore, not being able to raise enough capital doesn’t show promising leadership. His advice: Raise money often and distribute equity to everyone on the team.

4. Hiring people like the founder, with similar skill-set and/or experience, instead of getting on board the people the company really needs.

5. Not knowing when to let go. If your company grows, your role might change. Founders need to recognize that and know where they can contribute best

Accelerator and incubator programs have become a very important part of the startup ecosystem, providing mentoring, coaching and demonstration opportunities to entrepreneurs. In the past, many angel funders used to take such roles, helping to identify and support successful initiatives.

Today, there are over 1100 accelerator around the world and these keep mushrooming. Some of the programs are funded by governments, some are launched by non-profit member organizations or private entities, others are spin-offs by corporations (many with venture arms), or law or finance organizations, and more.

Naval Ravikant of AngelList talked about the most important aspects of building a company. Ravikant is the CEO and co-founder of AngelList, an organization that creates a community where startups can recruit talent by matching entreprenurial teams’ needs to accomplished professionals. The company also provides a platform that brings together investors and founders. Before AngelList, he co-founded Epinions (part of and Ravikant is an active angel investor and has invested in many companies, including Twitter, Uber, Stack Overflow and Wanelo.

Ravikant said that IPO's (Initial Public Offering) have soured lately with Zynga, Groupon and even a few hiccups with Facebook. However, there are still successful IPO's like Thumblr. In reality, it takes ten years to build a company, which is a time-frame much bigger than what an investor will tolerate. Therefore, he advised founders to get several investments in a row. Ravikant gave productive advice to entrepreneurs: he cautioned to not rely the startup vitality just on funding. Also, networking, selling, pitching, and showcasing are not the most important aspects for founders. Entrepreneurs need to focus on building their business, he said, and leave the networking and selling to other team members.

What are the current trends?

With technological advancements, markets move very quickly now. The latest trends include services that are subscription-based, SaaS (Software as a Service), cloud computing, robotics applications, and Enterprise Software solutions. Mobile e-commerce is also hot. Some of the domains that are somewhat down are gaming, social media-based applications and consumer-facing apps. Consumer facing and social media new applications need a lot of traction to gain attention and interest investors.

With so many mentoring resources today, acceleration programs and incubation platforms, why so few startups succeed?

Ravikant said that markets are global and competition is intense. In addition, success is a complex term by definition and has no single answer. Many entrepreneurs are first timers and experience helps, therefore serial entrepreneurs have a greater chance to 'make it'. In any rate, startups and entrepreneurs are advised to get all the help they can through the abundant and different startup programs, as these provide valuable exprtise, coaching, opportunities for improvement, and also access to various investment options.

Here are several programs I met at the Startup Conference:

1. enovationnation – TD Lowe, Founder and CEO –

2. nestgsv – Gene Chien, Business Development –

3. WOMEN Startup Lab – Ari Horie, Founder –

4. PITME - Nima Adelkhani, Founder -

5. everyCircle


1. For more information on about The Startup Conference, visit

2. AngelList has a small team of thirteen employees. Check it's cool website, demonstrating each month the total number of intros as well as the total amount of dollars startups were able to get through the platform.



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