Marvin Liao: “I Mostly Invest in Teams”. Zfort Group Interview with 500 Startups VC

May 16, 2018

 

Marvin Liao is a Partner at 500 Startups, a global Seed Venture Capital Firm and Startup Accelerator based in San Francisco. The business sectors Marvin is interested to invest include FinTech, Digital Marketing, Digital Health, IoT, Marketplace, Enterprise sales, and SaaS.

He has worked in Silicon Valley for 17 years and was one of the keynote speakers at iForum 2018, a major IT event in Eastern Europe.

Zfort Group had an insightful talk we're sharing today with you to help you take your fundraising skills to the next level.

 

What is the best way for a startup to attract its first customers?

I think at the very beginning it is about getting the first one, two, three, four customers and over-servicing them. A lot. And then they drive referrals. And another thing based on referral other than over servicing, is making case studies and then doing A LOT of online marketing. A step by step strategy, and that's what I'd do.

 

What do you think is the greatest challenge for a startup in Silicon Valley today?

It's just a lot of noise. I think it's a fight for talent, trying to get the best people you possibly can, that's really hard.

 

Do you believe in the Eastern European market in terms of technical background?

Yeah. Here there's a lot of great technical talent in general and you know, the great challenge for Ukraine is internal economy. I mean a lot of companies are trying to go external. I‘ve been here for a short-term last February, I think. Before then, I haven't been here for about five years. And you know, the level of English speakers is huge! And for me it means people are prepared for the global cooperation. It's a good thing!

 

Could you give some advice for a startup founder who's going to dominate the world market?

So, number one: Don't look for perfection. And launch as soon as you can to get feedback. The more feedback you get at the beginning, the more time you spend talking to your end customers, on phone, via surveys, the more you can learn about your product and improve it.

You have no idea what people like, what they will like, and won't know it until you launch it.

 

Fail as soon as possible, right?

Yeah, yeah, it's super important.

 

Can you name the most promising sectors worth investing?

I think sectors is the wrong way to look at it. In fact, I mostly invest in teams, sectors are not so important. You can look at it the following way: the sector is super hype, but the team is not so good. So it's better to think twice before giving them money.

 

Can you predict whether a startup will be a success? Do you have such VC's sixth sense?

If I have like five or six-weeks time with them, I'd probably have a pretty good idea, but I'm always surprised!

 

What are your predictions for the Silicon Valley for the next couple of years?

Well. It does get more and more expensive to live there, but the quality of people and the quality of understanding is great!

Wow, the people I meet there are really the best of the best. It worth paying the money to be there. It elevates your gain, your thinking, it elevates the competition. It helps you to be powerful.

 

What do you think of Ukrainian startup ecosystem?

It's very early, really early. But it's so promising. It's really promising since you've got so much technical talent!

 

And the final question. What's your inspiration to get up every morning?

You know, I learn stuff all the time and I think I'm super lucky to work with amazing people at our fund, amazing startups founders, and investors. And I often get to see like: “Oh my God, that's the coolest technology nobody will see in the next five or ten years! Wow, that's amazing! I'm just feeling very-very lucky.

 

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