November 13, 2013

An interview with Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith (his blog and his Twitter) is the co-founder and CEO of Smule that creates apps within the music industry. The company specializes in developing social music-making applications for smartphones and tablets. Today, 1.5 percent of the world's population (that's 125 million people) have used Smule's apps. The interview is from 2011.

Lessons learned
  • No-one invested in his first entrepreneurial endeavor and he didn't use much of his own cash - they focused on revenues from day 1. 3 months after founding the company, they signed the first contract. Now when they had money, they hired a few people (they had earlier been just two people) and could sign more contracts with companies who wanted to license their technology. Jeff Smith had to become the CEO of the company because his co-founder was from France and wasn't very good with the English language.
  • His next company was funded by outside investors and it became a public company on NASDAQ with 400 employees and $50 in sales. But Jeff Smith decided to step down to get a PhD in music from Stanford.
  • He stated that being honest about your limitations is important. If you have no experience from an area, you should approach it with a hypothesis - not a conviction. Test the hypothesis and confirm/reject it with data. It's also important to find great people - both mentors and employees. 
  • It's easier to promote a new product if you already have customers who are using your other products. You can cross-promote, communicate directly, or use social media if you have followers. But word-of-mouth is still the most important marketing channel - but this channel is very difficult to measure. 
  • Don't start a new project when the first project isn't fully developed. You may first argue that if you have 3 projects going on at the same time, the probability of success is higher than if you had only 1 project. But that's not true since not one of the projects will succeed because you can't give any of them enough energy.
  • If your employees don't fit your company's culture, you have to let them go. 
  • Don't start a company just to make money or just because you are 32 and are depressed because you haven't started a company yet.

More articles in the same series: Lessons learned from the Foundation interviews