I’m convinced that Macedonia will have successful startups!
Moneys are important, but you also need to know how to use it. Marvin Liao speaks wisely, but he is not just an empty speaker. For more than a decade he was CEO of Yahoo! A former partner of 500 Startups, he has almost two decades of experience in venture capital, technology businesses and startups. He has recently been the Chairman of the Investment Approval Committee of the Fund for Innovation and Technological Development. The Committee has five members and they will review and approve all project proposals for all instruments to support the Fund. In an exclusive interview with Factor, Liao talks about the challenges of startups in Macedonian circumstances, but also about his expectations from domestic companies.
Lieo: While I have spent alot of time in the surrounding region & tech ecosystems of CEE, Macedonia is relatively new to me. But I do know of the strong educational system, the fact that there is good technical talent and world class companies like Slice have extensive operations in the country. I'm personally quite bullish on the role small countries will have in the future when I see places like Estonia, Latvia, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Singapore which are punching above their weight & believe Macedonia has the opportunity to do the same which is why I was so excited and interested in becoming involved.
How important is financial support for the work of a startup and how should it be used?
Lieo: Financial support is really important but I think its one piece of the puzzle. I think regulatory environment, actual real business mentorship and access to expertise & examples to look up to are all equally important. Don't get me wrong, money is important but you also have to know how to use it properly.
You mentioned that Macedonia can be positioned as an international Innovation Hub - on what do you base this claim?
Lieo: I make this claim easily based on all the things I'm seeing in different markets around the world like in Baltic region, Singapore, Bulgaria and Slovenia which are physically close to Macedonia. Israel is another example. Anywhere where there are smart, hardworking & eager people with technical skills this is totally possible. Its a just a matter of time and effort.
You have significant experience and unenviable level of knowledge when it comes to startups, you are a partner in several hundred, and for years, almost two decades, you have been involved in the field of technology businesses and startups. Undoubtedly a great background - what is your advice, what ideas would suit for this part of Europe, what is the best to focus on, the most?
Lieo: It's hard to give direct and exact advice here as its very situation and context dependent. Startups tend to be more bottoms up exercise. But what I will say is that I truly believe that amazing startup founders especially when it comes to software can come from anywhere to build global businesses from the start. Something I've been lucky enough to see and experience hundreds of times, enough to see that it a trend.
You have had direct and indirect contact with many startups. You have had direct and indirect contact with many startups. Do you have any feelings, something to know right from the start that a certain idea will be guaranteed to be successful?
Lieo: I wish I did. It's extremely hard to know whether a startup will be successful or not. Any investor who tells you they knew from the beginning is lying.
What are the mistakes that startups make most often? On the other hand what quality should be possessed and what decisions should be made to ensure that the startup will succeed?
Lieo: I think the biggest mistakes are focusing on product over distribution ie. sales/marketing. I also think another big mistake, not focusing enough time understanding and learning about their potential customers and developing deep insights on them before they build the product. If they do focus on distribution and time with customers, it does not guarantee success but it does give them better odds for success.
You have worked in Silicon Valley for a long time, mostly in the powerful „Yahoo!How and why did you decide to move into the startup industry? What is the difference from this aspect?
Lieo: My move into the startup investing industry was very accidental, a very happy accident. I had decided to take some time off from big tech to rest. But got bored and started mentoring & volunteering at dozens of startup accelerators to keep myself busy. Thats how I fell into Venture Capital. The biggest difference was the even faster paced environment, the exciting ideas and passion and enthusiasm of the startup industry was incredibly attractive to me due to the fact it was so different from what I had done before. I had worked at a startup prior to Yahoo! for a few years and it was nice to return to this space but in a different role of investing.