On Oct 22, 2020 the Spark XYZ’s CEO and founder Lucas Pols did the favor of hosting a speaker’s event for CSUN’s own Entrepreneurs club. Mr. Pols has received his Master’s in Entrepreneurship from the University of Southern California. He also writes for Forbes and does speaking events.
The event starts with the warm welcome of, “We’re all entrepreneurs here. Ask any questions.” and “We’re all here to learn.” from Tim, a club board member, with Pols agreeing with an enthusiastic, “There are no stupid questions here.” He then gives a brief description of his software company, Spark xyz, and mentions his earlier work in sales.
Tim - “We’re all entrepreneurs here. Ask any questions. We’re all here to learn.”
Justin the student club president asks, “What would you say to a student right now that has a product idea that he wants to bring out to the world? What advice would you give that person as the first steps in starting out his or her journey on the right foot?”
Pols response: “In the context of hybrid entrepreneurship and doing it while at school, go for it .You have time to make mistakes and iterate right now. Out in the real world things hit faster and harder. Leveraging the student card is a very valuable tool that I don’t think is given enough credit because everyone generally wants to help students. Students don’t have as much of a burden.
“In the context of hybrid entrepreneurship and doing it while at school, go for it .You have time to make mistakes and iterate right now. Out in the real world things hit faster and harder. Leveraging the student card is a very valuable tool that I don’t think is given enough credit because everyone generally wants to help students. Students don’t have as much of a burden.”
For the hopeful student he recommends doing an independent field study related to that student’s business. “For example, you could figure out a way to do an independent field study as one of your classes. Where you’re actually building your venture or exploring the idea behind it. So go out and start networking and try it out.”
The club president brought up a point from Adam Grant’s book Originals that though entrepreneurs are risk-takers, the statistics showed that many founders of large companies we see today started out on a safer route, keeping their jobs while moonlighting on their idea. Pols agreed stating, “Entrepreneurs, we… we look at calculated risk. If I can improve my chances someway, or lower my risk profile, because I’m already in the highest risk pool out there; how do I chip away at that so that I have a higher chance of success going forward? There’s no reason to add more risk to the most risky thing you could possibly do.”
On lessening the potential burden, Pols encourages hybrid–entrepreneurship, in which instead of quitting one’s day job and dropping everything, one pursues starting a business while keeping a job. He remarks, “It’s more detrimental to you than doing it the other way.” Quoting a study, he says “There is a 39% higher success for those who keep their jobs and focus on entrepreneurship, compared to someone who drops everything and quits their job.” He further emphasizes taking less risks, and taking safer routes.
“Entrepreneurs, we… we look at calculated risk. If I can improve my chances someway, or lower my risk profile, because I’m already in the highest risk pool out there; how do I chip away at that so that I have a higher chance of success going forward? There’s no reason to add more risk to the most risky thing you could possibly do.”
On surveying the potential of a startup team. He says:
“It’s not up to the investor to validate the team. Traction is the validator.
In other words, the founder must show his results. “Profit shows success. How do we make that process and scale it and make it repeatable? Without traction, you will not get funding.”
He recommends finding a co-founder, especially if the student’s idea is specialized, like needing a tech guy for a technological venture. “Yes, technical products need a tech co-founder.” He mentions that Angels are not “the first way to go”, and that showing tangible results after testing the product in the market is the best way to go.
Pols emphasizes that in order to show potential investors the product, entrepreneurs have to sell that dream. They must say, “Here is the proof and the pudding of why my idea will work.” Give examples of what you’ve done to show that you’re serious. The message is, “We’re going forward and we’re actually doing this and we’re not just sort of BS-ing about.” He recommends saying that they tested their idea on Google ads words, and “threw up a landing page”. He also gives the examples of showing what been spent on marketing, the customer acquisition cost, and what the lifetime value of the product will be.
“Here is the proof and the pudding of why my idea will work.”
Another important point is showing that it is a repeatable process. Pols says that after looking at 3000 proposals, he has seen patterns of what work. Those are repeatable processes.
When asked about his moral code and mottos: He took a moment to think and then responded firmly,
“Do EVERYTHING with excellence, if you’re going to do something, do it well. Don’t half-ass it.” He recommends to have a purpose with your activities, and to have tangible goals. To try to give one hundred percent effort, but at the same time being calendar oriented. He says: “after a long day of only engaging two to three people in sales from 1pm to 3pm, at the end I will look back and think: how can I improve on that process?” Lucas shows with this example his dedication, time-management, and commitment to excellence.
“At end I will look back and think: how can I improve on that process?”
However he states as well that taking a calculated method, and not rushing is key. “Entrepreneurship is like the wild, wild west…This is not a sprint, this is a marathon and people who approach it as a sprint will burnout within the year.
“This is not a sprint, this is a marathon and people who approach it as a sprint will burnout within the year.”
When asked about brand name and trademarking, Pols says, “It’s not important until much later in the game.” Pols warns that obtaining a patent is not useful until much later into the game, noting that it does not really initially protect anymore. He gives a likely example that if a multi-million dollar company decided to steal the idea, the patent holder would have to sue for protection, and while in the middle of that lawsuit, no one would want to invest in his or her product. He clarifies with, “No venture capitalist will give you money, because you are in the middle of a lawsuit. It will cost you tens of millions of dollars, for a lawsuit with a big company say, if they rip you off.” Soon after, the event concluded with student thanking Pols for his time and answers.
1. Hybrid entrepreneurship as a student
2. “Traction” is the validator
3. Lowering risk,
4. Showing Work, Examples of what you've already done
5. Marathon, not sprint/ “How can I improve on that process?”
6. On not obtaining a trademark early