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What Brisbane startups can learn from a Silicon Valley entrepreneur

Published:
18/05/2016

If you missed Tristan Pollock’s public lectures while the Visiting Entrepreneur from Silicon Valley was in Brisbane this week, the following insights may be of interest:

“You don’t need everyone to believe in your vision.”

In the past few years, Tristan Pollock has co-founded two startups – Storefront, a trading platform for short-term retail space that The New York Times called the “Airbnb for retail spaces”; and SocialEarth, which was acquired by 3BL Media in 2012.

Tristan Pollock

He told a crowd at QUT’s Glasshouse that while not everyone would share your vision, the only people you need on board are those  who are excited about the idea. Find those people.

“Don’t overthink it. Every business is built with micro movements.”

Pollock said his company Storefront started three years ago in Minnesota. In three and a half years it raised just under $10 million in capital. He said you don’t have to build everything at once. Don’t think you have to build the app and a full website with a suite of products. The first steps for Storefront were literally just that. Tristan and his co-founder walked the streets to see if store owners would be interested in what they were doing and asked if they would list their empty spaces on the platform. From there they started to work on the other side of the marketplace. They put up a landing page with an email address for those who were interested, and with minimal marketing they secured their first customer list.

“Everyone has ideas  ... it takes a lot of work to execute them. The execution side and getting into the weeds is hard.”

Pollock is adamant that if you have an idea but aren’t willing to share it, chances are that idea will probably stay just that for a while yet. He said the work was in the execution of the idea, not the idea itself. He encouraged entrepreneurs to share their ideas and said by doing so, they’d potentially excite more people and open up new avenues and opportunities for themselves.

“It’s important to go where your customers are.”

Pollock said 90 - 95 per cent of commerce still happened offline, even though each day there was more of a change towards e-commerce. So his advice is to know where your customers are hanging out and reach out to them on that platform, whether it’s online or in a physical location.

“Generally investors look at team, product and market, but I think the most important is team.”

In his role with 500 Startups, Pollock often goes with his gut but also pays particular attention to the team around the idea, the product itself and the marketplace. He says that ideas come and go but the team driving the vision is most important.

Tristan Pollock and Cat Matson

“I think you need a combination of all but it comes down to team at the end of the day,” Pollock said.

“You need the right skillset, you need the right passion and the right motivations. You can figure out a bad product but it’s much harder to replace a founder.”

“Investors don’t want to hear ‘oh, don’t worry, yeah I got it’.”

Pollock said investors actually wanted to know the details, the small stuff. They want to know what your gaps are. Don’t pretend to know everything, because you don’t.

“I think it’s a good thing to know what you are good and bad at,” he said.

“Investors want to hear ‘we’re going to hire these three people when we hit x amount of revenue and I am going to bring on a co-founder because we want to stay lean and so on’.

“Focusing on the task at hand is the most important thing as a founder because there’s a long, long list of things you could actually be doing every day.”

“The elevator pitch is always appreciated.”

Pollock said he was a big fan of a bite-sized, concise pitch for funding, mentoring or other assistance. Take advantage of opportunities to share your ideas. You never know what might come of it.

The Visiting Entrepreneur Program is brought to you by Digital Brisbane and The Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation.

Background: Who is Tristan Pollock?

  • Tristan Pollock is an Entrepreneur in Residence and Venture Partner at 500 Startups, the world's most active seed fund and startup accelerator.
  • Tristan is also empowering the most creative people in the world as co-founder of Storefront. Hailed as 'Airbnb for Retail' by The New York Times, Storefront is backed by leading Silicon Valley investors, hip-hop artist Nas, author Gary Vaynerchuk, and former Lady Gaga manager Troy Carter.
  • His last company, SocialEarth, the Huffington Post for social entrepreneurship won multiple awards for impact journalism and was acquired by 3BL Media in 2012.
  • Tristan also was named to the 2015 Forbes 30 Under 30 list, exhibited his street art in a TEDx talk on creative cities, cameoed in NBC Universal's Bazillion Dollar Club, and crafted the most read email of all time reaching over 23 million Best Buy customers.
  • You can find him on TwitterLinkedInFacebook, view his photography and art on Instagram or Vango. You can also invest with him on AngelList.
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