Part 3: Starting your Career as an Entrepreneur
By: Sofia Carbone, communications coordinator
This is the last part of the series where we explore what being a product manager and marketer means in the context of both a startup and a large organization.
We had the pleasure to host a Q&A panel with Vito Salvaggio, a Concordia University, and MIT Alumnus, who is a veteran in the startup ecosystem in San Francisco. You can read part 1 and part 2, where we discussed his career as a product manager and what challenges he faces on a day to day basis.
Salvaggio is very active within the San Francisco startup community and was recently involved in several successful startups like Streetline—the leading provider of smart parking solutions to cities, universities and corporate campuses, and Loggly, a popular cloud-based log management, and search platform.
In this third part, we’ll be discussing Salvaggio’s challenges working in startups, and the tips and tricks used to overcome them. Khalil G. Haddad, District 3’s marketing and communications manager, moderated the discussion.
Question: From a technical perspective, how does one migrate towards entrepreneurship and product management? Do you have any techniques for acquiring the skills and knowledge in these areas?
Vito: There isn’t a single path. I think it depends what opportunities are available to you. If you’re stuck in a job where you have one single task and don’t have a lot of interaction with other functions, that can be a problem. If you’re going to be an entrepreneur, you’re going to deal with marketing, sales, support, engineering, all these cross-functional people on a daily basis. You need to have a healthy understanding of their roles. It’s easier to get this exposure in smaller organizations. Larger companies can be siloed, and you don’t get as much interaction. However, at least in my experience, product managers who worked in major corporations had a good foundation. They were trained on how to interact people. You won’t get that in smaller companies.
Question: What is the worst advice being dispensed to entrepreneurs these days?
Vito: I can’t say that I’m an expert in knowing. Every startup is unique, and I’m not aware of the general rules that do or don’t apply. I don’t know if there are general rules people are telling entrepreneurs that should be outright dismissed or supported.
Question: You have colleagues and acquaintances who decided to open a startup and that became successful. Did you notice patterns that you think might have caused their success?
Vito: Timing. One of my product managers, who worked with me at Apple and Roxio, recently sold his startup for forty million dollars to a New York-based company.
You have to be smart, hard working and be willing to sacrifice. You can’t be motivated by the thought that one day you’re going to get a million dollars. You need to believe in the problem that you’re solving. Think about how many people have this problem. Ask yourself ‘can I assemble a team, align, and pay them to tackle this problem and sell it to hundreds of customers?’ If you have that kind of mindset, then you may have a shot at being successful. If you think ‘I’m going to do a startup cause I’m going to get rich,’ you’re going to miss the intermediate steps and you’ll be disappointed.
Question: Is it an advantage for someone, who is at the beginning of their career, to jump into entrepreneurship?
Vito: Yes. Most people who go into entrepreneurship do it while they’re young, it’s easier. They don’t have the fancy job, so there is less holding them back. You need a nest egg to fund your expenses; this is a universal law. My advice, enter the job market with the plan of gaining experience and getting the higher salary that will allow you to branch off and do your own thing.
Question: What’s the benefit of starting a startup in Montreal compared to starting in San Francisco?
Vito: There’s a huge benefit to starting a company outside of San Francisco. The cost structure in California is outrageous, and attracting people and retaining them is challenging. In Montreal you have a nice talent pool of educated people and we’re a very diverse population. It’s more affordable to hire people. You have a huge advantage in Montreal, from a cost structure perspective. The drawback is it’s harder to find the people who work in high tech. In Silicon Valley, at least 25% of the population specialize in high tech.
From a marketing perspective, it’s less of a challenge today. You have the internet. If you’re selling from a website, no one needs to know where you’re located. I think marketing is as easy as it’s ever been for tech companies. You can be headquartered anywhere. If you’re reaching out beyond the Canadian market, I encourage you not to make it very prominent where you’re located. We deal with companies in India; they don’t make it very noticeable where they are located. That’s smart. You want to sell to the biggest market, that’s the US market, it’s not necessarily important to convey where your location is.
We hope you enjoyed the last post of this series! We enjoyed having Vito take the time and share his insights with our community.