An Interview with CEO of Founders Space, Steven Hoffman (Captain Hoff)

What is your background & why have you set up an Accelerator?

I'm the CEO and founder of Founders Space. I'm also an angel investor, partner at FOUNDERS.VC, limited partner at August Capital, serial entrepreneur, and author of the award-winning book Make Elephants Fly.

Tell us something about Founders Space

Founders Space is focused on educating startups. That's our mission. Our goal is to bring Silicon Valley style startup training to the rest of the world. Our headquarters is in San Francisco, but we have over 50 partners in 22 countries. We are particularly active in China, where we have opened Founders Space in Beijing, Wuhan, Xi'an, and Shanghai. We are just about to open in Chengdu, Singapore, and then Malaysia. We're also very active in Europe. Founders Space is ranked the #1 incubator for overseas startups in Forbes and Entrepreneur Magazines.

Accelerators seem all the rage right now, can you talk a bit about their history?

I originally started out just helping friends launch their startups in Silicon Valley. I had already run 3 venture funded startups, and I was taking a break. Soon, the word got out, and people started coming to me. That was six years ago. Today, Founders Space is global enterprise.

How many startups are connected to your Accelerator?

Hundreds of startups go through our accelerators worldwide every year. We also have thousands of startups participating in our online startup training programs and events.

What advantage do startups from incubators have over the regular startups?

Our main focus is education. We go in-depth on educating and training the entrepreneurs. It helps them accelerate their business faster.

As for startups, in your opinion, what makes a startup become the next big thing?

To break through all the clutter, a startup must either come up with a product or service that is exponentially better than the competition, or else they must do something totally different. It's not enough to be incrementally better. You can grow exponentially with a product that is a little better or a little different than your competitors.

What do you look for in a startup as you evaluate it for Founders Space?

I look for a CEO who can lead and really understands the business. I want to see a strong team of founders who are committed to making the product fly no matter what obstacles are in their way. If the CEO is weak, it's almost certain doom for the startup. I want to see someone who can attract the best talent in the world because that's the most important thing in the long run. You can change ideas, but it's almost impossible to change the nature of people.

In your opinion, what are the hurdles that keep people away from starting an entrepreneurial career? What advice would you give to the new entrepreneurs?

People don't want to take a risk. But life is risky. Nothing is sure. You can stay in a safe job, but there's no guarantee that job will be around in five or ten years. You need to adapt, and that's what being an entrepreneur trains you to do. It trains you to be a survivor. You have to confront impossible situations and learn how to solve incredibly hard problems. You can take those skills and do anything with them. They are your job and income security in life.

Could you recommend our readers one or two books that helped you during your entrepreneurial endeavors?

Not including my own book, which I naturally love, I am a big fan of the book Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, the founder of Nike. It's a fantastic story of what it takes to succeed. I also think the book Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz is an excellent book on how to negotiate deals. Chris Voss was a former hostage negotiator for the FBI, and he knows his stuff.

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