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Why you shouldn’t see the world for what it is: RISE Mentor Hours Supported by HSBC

Anna O'Hare
Published on July 5, 2017

If you had a 15-minute, one-on-one meeting with the CEO of one of the world’s most popular websites, the co-founder of one of tech’s most exciting startups, or an executive at one of the most influential worldwide institutions, what would you ask?

At Mentor Hours supported by HSBC at RISE, our startups have that chance. It’s a series of pre-scheduled meetings between RISE startups and some of our high-level attendees.

Let’s meet some of them, and find out what’s the one thing they wished they knew at the start of their careers.

Janet Yuen – head of business model innovation – HSBC

What’s the one thing you wished you knew when starting your career?

In my experience the opposite of a good idea isn’t a bad idea – it’s an idea that will fail to get traction because it was only half-formed, or its relevance was not fully tested. Feedback is a gift. Use it to hear different perspectives and be open to what it may mean for your idea.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Try to see the world not just as it is, but as it could be. But don’t stop there – you have to act. At HSBC we’re busy working towards our vision of digital banking that’s simpler, better and faster and this means constantly looking at global trends, thinking ahead and investing in the technologies that will most benefit our customers. But to make this happen we have to be able to break down the vast number of steps we’ll take along the way and fit them into the bigger picture. Technology, financing, new market entry, business models are all tactical problems that can be solved by breaking the problem down into parts, and continuously zooming in and out from the wide shot to the close-up.

What’s the biggest challenge facing startup founders today? And how can they overcome it?

Test, test, test. You have a hypothesis? Test it. With users. The assumptions you make about behaviour, adoption, willingness to pay, and conditions for traction in trials will feed the prioritisation of your day, week, month, year. Always remember that there’s way more noise than signal. You need to establish what you’re looking for, and use live data to power your work.

Till Faida – co-founder – Adblock Plus

 What’s the one thing you wished you knew when starting your career?

Don’t be afraid to be controversial. If an industry needs to be disrupted, the criticism of the people who want to maintain the failing status quo is the ultimate validation that you are on the right track.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Some of the greatest companies were created without a business model in mind. Be laser focused on creating value for your users or customers and the rest will follow.

What’s the biggest challenge facing startup founders today? And how can they overcome it?

The web has become as great as it is today because it used to be open to anyone providing equal opportunities. The biggest threats to new companies are walled gardens, closed ecosystems and the end of net neutrality – we need to work on decentralisation to avoid large companies being able to create entry barriers for new players.

Mada Seghete – co-founder – Branch

What’s the one thing you wished you knew when starting your career?

I wish I knew that I didn’t have to figure out what I wanted to do off the bat. Today a career can take interesting turns that lead to destinations that impossible to foresee at the very beginning. When I graduated from Cornell with a degree in computer engineering, I had no idea that one day I would become a marketing executive and adore my job. But because Branch is a technical product – all the different stops along the way – working as a software engineer, product manager and strategy consultant have helped me gain valuable experience that make me a much better marketer for a technical product today.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

The best piece of advice actually comes from my co-founder Alex – just keep building. It’s ok to fail. Failing is just part of the process and, as founders, we shouldn’t get too attached to our original ideas and be open to their evolution, based on feedback from customers, investors, advisors and more. The best way to move forward is to keep building, to keep trying out new ideas and iterations until we find the features and products that work.

What’s the biggest challenge facing startup founders today? And how can they overcome it?

I think the biggest challenge is figuring out how to scale both products and teams. I see many founders who start small and are successful, but can’t figure out how to take a company to the next level. My advice is to always think of everything with scaling in mind: Assume you will have to grow, and never build with just the now in mind. That’s the only way to succeed. Think that way when it comes to product, HR processes, hiring, and team structure. And every stage of growth is almost like a new startup: never think once you get to the next stage things will be easier – they never are. With scaling, it only becomes harder. It’s just the problems are different.

Ray Chan – CEO – 9GAG

What’s the one thing you wished you knew when starting your career?

I wish I knew to always focus on impact. Now I always ask myself one question: “What’s important now?” I represent this with the acronym WIN – it helps keep it fresh in my mind.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

As Gmail lead developer Paul Buchheit has said: “Advice = Limited life experiences + over-generalisation.”

What’s the biggest challenge facing startup founders today? And how can they overcome it?

I think it’s very common for distractions to come disguised as opportunities. The only antidote to this, to avoid these distractions, is to stay super-focused.

Meeta Singh – chief of sleep medicine – Henry Ford Sleep Laboratory

What’s the one thing you wished you knew when starting your career?

It’s a marathon and not a sprint – pace yourself and stick to it

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

The three As for success: availability, affability and ability. You have to make sure you are available because if you aren’t, the other two As don’t matter. You must be pleasant and affable, so that your clients and colleagues can be comfortable in approaching you, if not the other two A’ don’t matter; and finally, you must have knowledge and skill (ability), because, again, otherwise the other two As don’t matter.

What’s the biggest challenge facing startup founders today? And how can they overcome it?

In my opinion, it’s fatigue while trying to navigate the 24-hours-a-day, seven-day work week. The key is to recognise this and be able to combat it. Rest and recovery are key to top performance.