RV chats with Startup Genome Guys + Tom Currier to SXSW


I am finally recovered from my road trip to SXSW from San Francisco and ready to share what I learned from my startupRV experience!

SXSW interactive attracts startup folks, techies, designers, and tech groupies from all over the world.  Last year the conference attracted attendees from 63 different countries, more diverse countries than any of the other SXSW events. This year, Startuplive.com launched at SXSW, so in a last minute frenzy, I put up a request on Facebook to get a ride to Austin. 

Luck would have it that late Tuesday night, I received an invitation from Bjoern Herrmann, one of the co-founders of Startup Genome (SG),  the guys who are trying to crack the startup innovation code.  I’d never been to sxsw, and I’d never driven an RV, but this seemed like a great way to get the story behind their report. So, on Thursday, March 8th, I met Bjoern Herrmann (CEO), Max Marmer (CSO) , Ertan Dogrultan (CTO), along with Tom Currier, an entrepreneur and one of the 20under20 Thiel Fellows, who is working on an energy related startup, and we headed off to do the 1,800 miles of driving to Austin, TX. 

Who needs a bus or plane when you can take a RV to SXSW and learn more about startups?

This was the first time in two years that the Startup Genome project guys had taken a real break from Silicon Valley.  Bjoern and Max were both presenting on a panel Sunday at 330 Pm around Startup Genomonics, so our road trip was aimed at leaving after their discussion.  It was great to get their insight and that of the ambitious, young solar energy entrepreneur Tom Currier. Here are some questions that were answered during our RV chats.

A bit about the RVtoSXSW team:

Bjoern Herrmann is a driven world changer from a small town in Germany, and realized after working in Russia as a consultant, that is not his manifestation, so he packed his bags and came to San Francisco, where he felt working to help startups could create an impact.  Aside from being the CEO of Startup Genome, he is the ambassador for Sandbox’s San Francisco community,  has worked on his own startups, and done projects in Bangladesh and Russia.  

Max Marmer, is the scientist with a philosophic disposition.  He has put together various events, helped start a non-profit that provides internet to developing countries, and has founded a couple things including a Technology club while he was in high school. He dropped out of Stanford after one semester to become CSO of Startup Genome.

Ertan is the programmer with many questions.  He hails from Turkey and came initially to do his PhD at UCLA, but dropped out when he felt his passions caused him to want to be more part of the workforce. He has a love for music and is curious about people’s motivations.

Tom Currier is part of the first batch Peter Thiel fellows and also a Stanford dropout, who is passionate about pursuing freedom and finding the answers to the world’s future energy issues. At the ripe age of nineteen, he is driven to pursue working on things that get him closer to his inspirations.

What makes a successful Startup?

Max Marmer and Bjoern Herrmann discussed some of their reports findings, and in the video below, Max highlights the three essential components:

  • Team: determination, ambition level,ready to learn and full commitment – “be ready to ride the roller coaster”.  The report found startups that have mentors, track metrics effectively, and learn from startup thought leaders raise 7x more money and have 3.5x better user growth.
  • Product: is dependant on the founders:
    “Different type of markets and products require different type of founders and resources. B2C vs. B2B is not a meaningful segmentation anymore because the Internet has changed the dynamics of customer interaction. [They] found four different major groups of startups that all have very different behavior regarding customer acquisition, time requirements, market risk and team composition.”
  • Market: once again this is dependant on the team, but the findings found that startups that monetize too early are likely to fail. 

So, how do you find a good co-founder?

Tom Currier takes a fresh look: Make something great and they will come.

Tom Currier says, “Take it as far as you can on your own, and then you can use that to attract a co-founder.  Once you’ve got a great product then you can ask, ‘How would you take it to the next level?’ and based on their response, you have a way to know who would work well with you.”

Focus on what you’re trying to build, and keep networking with like-minded people.

Bjoern came to the bay area on a hunch, with only one contact, and an idea of things he wanted to do. It was through his interest in putting together events that he came to know about Max Marmer who was working already with the famous Stanford professor Steve Blank, on the early research on what became the initial Startup Genome Report. It was then Max and Bjoern’s work on the Startup Genome Report, that got read by a professor at UCLA, who advised his fresh PhD drop-out student, Ertan Dogrultan to reach out and write them. Ertan had been working on his own project around using machine learning to understand startup successes, so the trio were a great match.

How important is a great team?

Startup Genome just celebrated their one year anniversary, and in a blog post, Max talks about the importance of having co-founders that can turn into best friends to get through the tought times. He discusses the importance of having a technical person, a visionary member, and someone focused on the research. The team talked to me about how their bond has gotten them through some of the current obstacles they faced, along with their fresh separation from Blackbox.vc. To say the least, when the startup is your life, the people you choose for co-founders should be people you can tell anything.  Close connection with the co-founder also makes problem solving more efficient. 

So, what inspires these guys?

Tom: “Freedom and never asking permission to do things.  Just doing things than asking forgiveness (if needed),” he says, ending with a short laughter regarding the last addition.

Bjoern and Max had different reasons. Yet, their current reason is that they enjoy helping startups succeed, and are working on what they call the “salesforce for startups”. 

What should you expect from these guys in the future?

The SG guys are working on making software for cracking the startup innovation code, and launched Startup Compass in late August 2011.  This is a simple benchmarking tool that allows startups to evaluate their progress against other startups. Thus far, much like their report, it has received thousands of beta tester requests.

For Tom Currier, he is planning to keep working on his solar energy startup, which goes by the name of Black Swan Solar, but also doing some side projects around building co-living space that works for entrepreneurs like him who commute between the peninsula and San Francisco.

What would you ask them if you had some RVchat time? What questions do you have about the Startup Genome Report?

We made it to Sxsw, and had a crazy ride home too, but now we’re all back to work with a new comprehension of what it is like to be a startup on the road. If you haven’t read the Startup Report, you can view it here, and if you’re a startup looking ready to get assistance in figuring out how to get to the next level or just want to check out the Startup Compass, you can find that product here.


<p>Max Marmer – Kauffman Global Scholars 2011 from David Koper on Vimeo.</p>

Naureen Nayyar is the co-founder of Dutiee.com. She can be reached @norabean on twitter and found at: about.me/naureen

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s