”Learn fast, fail fast” – notes from a seasoned entrepreneur

Young entrepreneurs looking to become the next success stories in their field had better be prepared to fail fast – and learn fast. That’s according to Ari Backholm, chief science officer with Seven Networks, a Silicon Valley company operating at the nexus of the software and mobile sectors. Nordic Business Report sat down with Backholm to tease out useful insights about the journey toward entrepreneurial success.

Entrepreneurs need to get used to the iterative process of learning and moreover, to learning through failure, declares Ari Backholm an inventor who has successfully made the transition from co-founder of a Finnish startup to Silicon Valley.

“Life is full of failures to learn from. The faster you fail the faster you learn – unless you learn you won’t continue to pursue entrepreneurship,” says the chief science officer and SVP for Analytics and Market Development with Seven Networks, a Silicon Valley-based company that develops software for mobile traffic management and analytics.

Success linked to challenges

Drawing on his personal experiences, Backholm notes that entrepreneurs will face many successes and challenges as they attempt to realize their business dreams. Recounting his biggest accomplishments, he seems to suggest that, like light and darkness, successes and challenges are inseparable.

“In growing a business, each success tends to be bigger than the last. So your latest achievement is always the greatest and your challenges always grow.”

As a practical example, he relates the journey towards a successful smartphone collaboration with South Korean consumer technology conglomerate Samsung.

“We worked with Samsung on getting software embedded in their Galaxy S line and preparing it to be shipped. The sheer force of that giant, as it moves towards a launch, is staggering – nothing can get in the way of the launch. No excuses can stop the train. Once you get there and start to see millions of devices with your code and users signing up – that’s a great feeling.”

Not all about the money

As a co-founder of Finnish technology startup Smartner, Backholm understands only too well the pressure that young entrepreneurs experience finding and selecting the right financial backers. However, he reminds entrepreneurial rookies that their main focus should always be on developing the business.

“Financing creates credibility, but the focus is how money can help grow your business, not necessarily where it comes from,” Backholm cautions.

“You can look at what type of help is needed, for example advisers or channel partners. This may come with the funding, but more typically it doesn’t. So this is what you need to focus on figuring out, rather than hoping that a financier will solve your business problems,” he adds.

Backholm moved to Silicon Valley in 2005 when Seven Networks acquired Smartner. Many fledgling companies see the US location as the mecca of business success, but Backholm says it may not turn out to be a winning lottery ticket for every sector.

Location, location, location

“You need to be clear on your business, your customers and partners. Plan your location on that basis. However, there are many benefits of coming to Silicon Valley for certain types of ecosystems that are available, especially in technology sector – customers, potential partners and ecosystem players. But you shouldn’t come just to look for funding or meet a few venture capitalists and go back with money. It needs to be a business decision based on what is best for your business.”

He points out that Smartner deliberately chose to create a strong presence in Europe and South East Asia, rather than going west to Silicon Valley. That strategy ultimately paid off, as the company became an attractive acquisition target for Seven Networks, which did not have a foothold in Smartner’s key markets.

After 10 years in Silicon Valley, Backholm remarks that while Finnish and other Nordic entrepreneurs excel at developing technology solutions to solve problems, they still have much to learn from their US counterparts, such as how to get those solutions to markets.

“You need to pay great attention to detail to run a successful business in Silicon Valley. When you want to change or do something new, you can’t simply outsource. You need to understand what you’re doing. Not just the technology, but the customer experience, business models, market channels, and so on,” Backholm explains.

“We don’t appreciate iPhone because it’s been around so long, or Uber because it’s so simple and we may not appreciate the new batteries from Tesla. But there are many details needed to make it successful and to take it to market. That’s where we have some work to do on the Nordic side,” he adds.

Photo credit: Paula Ojansuu

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