Sumo Cast 007 - Paul O’Brien





Todays guest is a VC who has spent several years in Silicon Valley and understands the life cycle of bringing both products and entire industries to market. His name is Paul O'Brien.

In 2010, O’Brien relocated to Austin from Silicon Valley where he had launched a series of startups in local search, crowdsourcing, web-based accounting, payments, and social intelligence.  In Texas, Paul advises startups in funding, marketing, business development, project management, and product management, and spends most of his time working to Accelerate Texas as founder of an economic development initiative to fund Texan startups.

1:52    Paul believes ‘venture capitalist’ is a broad cross section term from early entrepreneurship to corporate development. He is passionate about economies. He grew up in Michigan when the economy wasn’t strong, and then spent 12 years in Silicon Valley where that case happened to be the complete opposite. He is a passionate advocate for the state of Texas.

3:15     Silicon Valley is competitive and this is an important facet to any economy. Technology and Silicon Valley have quite a number of venture capital firms, not just working together, but also working in competition with each other. This fosters aggression, innovation and greater risk taking. It also fosters immigration, and the population of Northern California has clearly fallen over the last few years as a result of this new way of thinking.

5:30     Texas is behind Silicon Valley, but it is developing far more potential then Silicon Valley. It does however lack significant venture capital resources, so it will take about another 15 years to fully catch up. Paul does believe however, that in terms of an industry, Texas could be regarded as being part of Silicon Valley, as geographic location does not necessarily come into the equation.

8:45     Venture capital needs to mitigate risk in as many ways as possible in a world of high failure rates. The ecosystem needs to be there to support the entrepreneurs and the startups in which they are participating. Venture capitalists are currently looking for those ecosystems. They are looking for locations where they can build companies effectively. There are several different types of established industries in Houston or Austin already such as e-commerce and clean energy that support different startups, so it may mean looking at a different type of startup company, but the ecosystems do exist. Paul is passionate about how to develop those particular ecosystems. Startups cannot make the jump from incubation to a corporation, theres a middle ground that needs far more collaboration.

12:40   ‘Growth Hacks’ to Paul is really just the role of your CMO, but with a highly technical skill set being applied to brand development and the other traditional forms of marketing. Growth Hackers understand analytics deeply, and to Paul this is a very important part of the economy - an economy that doesn’t totally understand it yet. Analyzing the impact of traditional media through analytics is a great area for entrepreneurs to look as are social data spaces such as Spread Fast, People Pattern, and Sprinklr which allow you to effectively capture tens of thousands of people that you can capture on social networks. Paul encourages you to look for these platforms and make them work for you to capture customers on their terms.

16:33   The bigger idea that Paul is touching on with regard to the economy and each specific startup is that the nodes or points of experience and engagement are very critical to be successful as a startup. Its important to not to just look for a Venture Capitalist who will give you money, but things have matured so much that you can find exactly what you need to suit your particular industry and all the resources that you actually need.

19:18   Paul feels that Silicon Valley built the infrastructure that this current generation of technology exists. The valley built the internet, the devices we use the internet on - the list goes on. Thats the foundation, or the infrastructure that we all use. They are utilities or tools - but we are not passionate about them. These already exist, so now we are adapting these tools to suit other industries and make them into something tangible that we can be passionate about and appreciate.

22:45   The greatest challenge that exists in Texas is that it is a sales oriented ecosystem. It is a powerful way to start a venture, but that only gets you so far if you’re inventing or disrupting. Silicon Valley is a marketing based ecosystem.  They are passionate about market first - and not as focussed on selling something. Paul asks how does Texas make that transition. He suggests looking at the industry that a startup is getting into, and maturing what the startup is doing into the various channels that are applicable to the startup. He feels that a huge mistake that is being made by startups is over emphasizing mobile consumption. It is a huge segment of the market, but not the only segment. Paul asks how do we mature the startup? Its about data, its about Growth Hacking, its not advertising or lead-gen.

27:05   Favourite book - Start with Why - Simon Sinek

27:12   Best Advice Received - "Do that you are passionate about. The easiest way to find success is to be personally invested in that success."

28:12   Technology Game Changer - Transportation Industry.

29:22   Accelerate Texas is Paul’s new pet project. He is building an audience that is passionate about Texas to figure out what it takes to bring about a new economy of which Texas is the hub.