Start-up lessons from serial entrepreneur Mark Ruddock

Years ago, entrepreneur Mark Ruddock was sitting in his start-up’s server room feeling depressed.

It was 5:30 a.m. and the start-up’s launch client had delayed the next phase.

Never mind that it wasn’t really a server room.

“It was a bunch of Ikea tables with desktops stacked on them,” said Ruddock, speaking at the Ontario Venture Summit.

However, things were about to change.

When Ruddock checked his voice mail, there was a message from a contact at a large firm requesting a meeting.

Ruddock met with the contact, presented his idea but stated that he’d need $1 million to get it going. The contact agreed and arranged for the initial payment.

“48 hours from despair to a million dollars,” said Ruddock.

The former CEO of Viigo (acquired by Research in Motion) and INEA (acquired by Cartesis Group) outlined for the audience what it takes to build a successful start-up.

“You need to take an idea that is not yet grounded in reality, convince someone to fund it, then convince the best and brightest to follow along,” he said.

Which moves to the point about the team: “Always surround yourself with a great team,” said Ruddock. “Never be the smartest person in the room.”

Ruddock also advises start-up founders to keep focus.

“Listen to the customers and data,” he said. “Make clear decisions about where you want to go.”

And while Ruddock said it’s important to be passionate about one’s product, it’s especially important to pay attention to those customers.

“They will guide you with product insight.”

If the end-game of the start is an exit, remember that you’re building something that needs to be irresistible to someone else.

“You need to be strategically important enough for someone to buy you.”

Venture capital can certainly be important in growing a start-up, Ruddock said that choosing VC’s is also important. Select partners for value, but don’t give up too much leverage, since you’ll want to have your own hand in negotiations in a possible exit.

“Get it, grow it, keep it,” said Ruddock.

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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Robert Janelle

Robert Janelle

Robert Janelle is a freelance technology journalist living in the National Capital Region. He's spent time covering the Ottawa start-up scene as a columnist and feature writer with his work in National Capital Scan, The Ottawa Citizen, The Ottawa Sun, Kingston Whig-Standard and The Escapist. He also suffers from a mild addiction to video games. more

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