Old School Hacks for Your New Startup

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Old school is old school for a reason: It usually has stood the test of time and works.

Around here, there in only one thing that we love more than old school, and that is the blending of old school with new school. That is, what seems to work best is using time-tested ideas and strategies, applying them, and then taking the best of what is the latest and greatest to forge an amalgam that is uber-strong.

One person who really gets that is Subrah Iyar.

In 1996, Iyar co-founded a small company that aimed to solve the growing need for web conferencing. Back then, the problem for such a business was the lack of bandwidth to handle such a platform (yes, I can hear the dial-up modem squeaking and crackling right now!) But, as the new century was dawning, broadband started to come online, and Subrah Iyar’s business began to take hold, obtaining $25 million in funding in 1999.

…the fundamentals paid off as they sold WebEx to Cisco for $3.2 billion…

But even so, no less a competitor than Microsoft sought to enter the field in 2003, buying a big web conferencing company that year. Yet Subrah and his partner had done things the right way, their small business was small no longer, and they handled the challenge. But he was at least a little nervous, right? Wrong. “It didn’t get too scary, because I knew we had done everything based on fundamentals.”

Four years later, the fundamentals paid off as they sold WebEx to Cisco for $3.2 billion.

So when Subrah Iyar tells me that startups are both the same, and different, than when he first started almost 20 years ago, we are wise to listen, especially because he is at it again, this time with another cool new startup: Moxtra.

Is he trying to remake the desktop experience again? Of course not. How ‘90s. No, Moxtra is a mobile app that allows people to share, collaborate, and “interact” with their content (for example, if you are doing a home remodel, Moxtra would allow you, your mate, and your contractors to store, share and update content in real time.)

When I asked him to elaborate on what is different today from the startup environment back in the 90s, Subrah told me that, while there is more competition today, that is a good thing; it forces one to really think about how to best serve the customer and to come up with superior solutions for those customers. “It is a different world in a very positive way,” he said. Other important changes to consider:

  • Making sure that your startup is mobile ready.
  • Understanding that consumers today have more choices, less time, and a greater ability to compare.

But some things are not different. So what works?

  • “Trust your judgment,” this entrepreneur advised. “Have a vision and believe in it. Work to avoid following the latest trends.”
  • “Don’t just ‘find’ a great team, ‘develop’ one.”
  • “Be sure that you have an intimate knowledge of your own customers and their needs.”

In the end, Iyar explained that what is great about entrepreneurship is the chance to come up with an idea, manifest that idea, and get people to use it. “It is a very creative process.”

Especially if you do it right.