Suzana Bengayev | August 2, 2018
We recently sat down with The Vault member Kevin Holmes of Founders Network to learn about his entrepreneurial journey, as well as to find out more about the mission of his company. Founded in 2011, Founders Network offers lifelong peer mentorship to over 600 tech startup founders globally.
“Our platform, programs and high-touch service facilitate authentic experience sharing, warm introductions, and long-term professional relationships”.
What is your superpower?
“My superpower is listening, we work with 600+ founders, all are very excited about what they’re doing and my job is to listen closely to what their needs are, help them define what they need and connect them with other founders who have achieved those things and can share their experiences to help accelerate and de-risk the process for that founder”.
What inspired you to create your company?
“It was the motivation to build something. I started my career in Silicon Valley in a big microchip company and I found that I did not like working in a large corporate setting, I wound up by chance working at a startup and I loved it- the creative problem solving, turning an idea into reality, the ownership idea, creating and updating the version of what we have out in market, I just loved the iterative process, and that’s what got me into startups. We rose about $1 million dollars and got to revenue of about a $1 million, we sold it and nobody made any money. I spent four years there and had absolutely no idea what I was doing, as a team we had no idea what we were doing.
In retrospect, we did so many things wrong, so many mistakes that it became obvious that this way to bring new ideas to market is old and primitive in a lot of ways. It was really painful to know how hard we tried to build something and to be great but then we failed.
That pain inspired me to start Founders Network. I was thinking that there had to be a better way – all of these founders are so excited about their ideas but they are operating in isolation and there is so much value that can be created by talking to other founders and learning how they did the same things you are trying, which can help you move faster. In any given day there are so many things that need to be done, but you just don’t know what they are. In general, talking to other founders can help and teach you how to avoid a lot of mistakes. I hope we are making it easier for founders to progress and be more successful”.
How do you define innovation?
“Innovation is new thinking, new ideas and approaches, creativity and creative problem solving; innovation can be breakthrough, technology, and process innovation. The reason Founders Network is successful it is not because some IP or tech innovation, the things that make it work is how we do it, how we build the community, how we onboard people, how we connect them, support them and how we deliver value to them. We are not an innovation, it was just something that was missing from the ecosystem, a service that didn’t exist”.
What do you like about working at The Vault?
“I like the values of the organization, it is an authentic workspace, it doesn’t feel corporate. It’s a real community, you have people come and go but there are people that have been around a long time, and a real sense of community, they provide nice amenities for everybody. For all the options out there, I think it’s more authentic and that is not easy to build”.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve overcome in your entrepreneurial journey?
“I think with Founders Network, it’s been around seven years and we have bootstrapped and so, whether you raise money or you revenue fund it’s going to be hard either way. With revenue funding or bootstrapping the process is a lot slower, you grow more incrementally and the challenge is more like running a marathon than it is about burning up because you raised a lot of money or hired too fast. So the challenge is to stay motivated and find balance. Seven years of that must be the biggest challenge I faced- growing this thing”.
What is some advice you would give to others to overcome these obstacles?
“Have a way to manage stress and have balance in your life, work can’t be everything. For me, I enjoy exercise, running or biking- taking a vacation. After a few years, you can have some semblance of a normal life. Also, I advise a lot of meditation”.
What inspires you?
“People that dare to be great and go all in. People that are trying to build the next big thing, I really admire that. Some of the members of Founders Network that are inspiring to me are Appthority, founded by Domingo Guerra, they have raised now $25 million.
Another company called IFTTT founded by Linden Tibbets, they raised about $40 million, another one is Docker, founded by Solomon Hykes. It’s a fast-growing project and by nature, they are all taking big risks, and that’s why I choose this path… when I see people that are able to do that it’s inspiring”.
Can you share a life-changing moment that got you to where you are today?
“When I left the startup that I was working for, the Dean of Santa Clara University was the investor and he wanted to start a center for innovation and entrepreneurship, so he hired me to do that and that is where I got a better and external view on the ecosystem and how Silicon Valley works, so I did that for 4-5 years which funded my MBA. That’s what took me in because you can start a company with no experience, but here I saw everything from scratch, that gave me a comprehensive view of the industry. I would never have had that opportunity if I did not have that job”.