Interview: Jeff Solomon - Co-Founder Of Venice Beach Incubator Amplify
Entrepreneur Jeff Solomon says it’s the crazy ideas that have the power to transform industries. He is a co-founder and executive director of Amplify, a startup accelerator and co-working community that’s part of the thriving Silicon Beach scene on Los Angeles’ Westside.
Cited by Forbes among the entrepreneurs changing LA, Amplify, provides seed funding and incubator space at its Venice Beach campus to fledgling companies. Mobile chat platform provider Look.io, which was acquired by Live Person, and RadPad, a mobile-based rental marketplace, are among the startups it has backed.
In this interview he talked about the challenges for startups, the need to fail and pivot in new directions, and harness creativity that comes from crowdsourcing.
What’s top of mind for young entrepreneurs when it comes to mobile apps?
There are a lot of mobile applications and products, but I’m seeing a trend of more young entrepreneurs actually thinking about how they’ll make money down the line. This is an important aspect of building a company. A cool idea that requires a billion people to use it before they figure out a way to make money is a hard way to approach things.
To some extent, Facebook and certainly Twitter are those kinds of businesses. I’m not the kind of entrepreneur that would actually build one of those businesses. I’m seeing people having an idea of how they’re going to make money at the front end. In recent years, it was not that way.
Is a great idea for a mobile app enough?
Everybody who has a mobile phone all of a sudden has an idea for an app and this has driven a lot of people to look at entrepreneurship as a career path. Not every good idea makes for a good business in the mobile space. Entrepreneurs need think outside the box and go beyond their comfort zone to find success.
For example, if someone has an innovative idea for a mobile app feature, they need to think about how that feature can be a component of a bigger business. They need to have a bigger, overall vision.
The trick for entrepreneurs and innovators is to think about how to they solve life’s little problems using a mobile app. People can do that, but they must also build sustainable business models around it so people are willing to pay to get these products.
How closely is failure tied to success?
I have had several successes and I’ve had several failures in my career and by far the failures have taught me more. I got more pleasure out of the successes, but the failures were critical. Failures drive your personal, internal passion to succeed, which is important.
It also drives innovation because you have to transform what didn’t work into something that could work. People are understand that failure is part of the success process.
In the startup world you hear the word pivot. Everybody’s pivoting their business. Basically that means something didn’t work. Instead of just packing up that business and getting a job somewhere else, now it becomes about taking what you’ve learned and pointing it in another direction. Failure is an essential part of growing and learning.
What trends in mobile are capturing your attention?
Making interaction with phones seamless, because I want to get more stuff done and not have to stop, pull over, type or whatever. I don’t think it’s quite here yet even with the voice activated solutions, but there’s got to be improvements coming.
Also I see all of these crowd funding, crowdsourcing, crowd whatever popping up all over the place. The concept of using the crowd, of people in the same categories to drive innovation is really a key catalyst for our future, where the individual thinker is just a component of a bigger entity.
That occurs both virtually, through the web, where you have people that you may not even know or see, but I also think it occurs in small communities where you have 10, 15 or 20 people who are like-minded all under the same roof. Cool things happen when creativity is cross-pollinated.
What is one of the craziest ideas you’ve heard that makes sense?
I met a guy recently who talked about the end of cellular networks. He said that essentially we have this massive peer-to-peer network of phones, so we don’t have to make a call through a cellular tower. Ideas like peer-to-peer phone calling are how industries get transformed.
It’s like Napster, which realized that there were so many people with music on their computers — connect with enough people and you could get any song you wanted. That transformed the entire music industry, for better or worse.
To some extent, that’s what’s happening in the mobile space. There are so many phones on this planet that the concept of a cellular network where you pay for minutes is probably going to go away. The carriers are going to have to think of new ways to make money, and I think they’re starting to do that.