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From Silicon Valley: Mario Herger

We talked to one of Silicon Valley's great mentors who's been close to the startup scene for over 10 years. Find out more about Mario's story and his advice to Czech entrepreneurs.

Thank you for taking the time to share a couple of great insights with our community! To kick things off, can you tell us a little about yourself?

I was born in Vienna, Austria, studied Chemical Engineering and did an MBA, and started in 1998 with SAP in Germany. I moved 2001 to SAP Labs Palo Alto, where I worked as software developer and manager in Big Data and the Datawarehouse, and for the last 5 years as an Innovation Strategist, looking at emerging trends. In 2013 I left SAP and became an independent trend researcher and author.

Well, you are originally from Europe, Austria, could you tell us “your story?” How did you get in Silicon Valley, why?

While around 2000 the internet had sprung up and the Silicon Valley became a first hotspot around that industry, at SAP I noticed that the US market for the products we were working on became more important. And I had always had the goal to move to a foreign country and had my studies tailored to that with learning multiple languages. So I asked my management to agree that we are opening our own group on Palo Alto in California and that I would move over there. And voilà, it happened.

At first, I didn’t really much understand about the significance about this place, but the longer you live there, the less possible it is to avoid the impact of this place on the world. And this is also when I personally started to change from being pretty closed-minded to actively looking out for new developments.

Why do you do what you do? In terms of career as well as choosing to be a mentor/advisor?

Turns out that it is always more exciting for me to be with people who have ideas and the drive to do something to improve the world. Once I realized how draining it can be having people around you always complain but never do something or improve a situation they see problematic, I personally felt better. Enthusiastic people with ideas and the will to tackle big problem give you a lot of energy and I wanted to be part of that. I had to unlearn being judgmental, and instead see the opportunities in ideas. Everything we see as normal in our lives started as a stupid idea once. So we are bad to discover good ideas. Instead, help the person with an idea to improve on it and connect them to people who can be even more helpful.

At the end of the day, you want to leave the world better than you found it. Tesla-CEO Elon Musk said once “I just want to think about the future and not be sad.” And I think this is what I want to be part of and make my contribution.

How do you track trends in your market?

Tracking trends is done by being interested in a wide variety of fields. If you are just too narrow in your expertise and interests, it will ultimately make you a bad expert. A lot of impulses come from fields outside your own. I make it a rule that every other book that I read is not related with my current work. This way I am keeping my mind open for frameworks and methodologies that other disciplines are applying, and often they help me solve a problem in my own field of interest.

I also am interested in things where I am absolutely sure that it will never have an impact for my job. And then I am always wrong. I did standup comedy, published a satirical magazine once, play instruments, love French comics, and they seem unrelated. But then they show me trends in their own fields, and approaches that can make my work better. My interest in standup comedy helps me to make my talks more entertaining, the interest in graphic novels makes me pay more attention to my slides and so on.

And when you are T-shaped, with deep knowledge in one area, but interest in many others, you are more likely to see signals such as the use of Artificial Intelligence appearing in many of them, and then it’s not just a signal in my field that I could easily ignore, but it becomes a cluster of signals and therefore an indication of a trend.

Which leadership skills do you think are most important for founder/CEO? What's the most common mistake for startups?

I guess for me it is to be able to hire people that are not only more skilful than you in the field you hire them and that they show a lot of intrinsic motivation. And then don’t tell them what and how to do stuff, and then step out of the way and support them. Micromanaging is the worst demotivator for anyone on the receiving end.

When do you think is it the best time for startup Founder to look for VC money?

As late as possible. The earlier you raise money, the earlier you lose control and the more hand-holding you have to do with nervous investors, which takes time away from building your business. Bootstrap as long as possible, make the first product, get your first clients and when you are ready to scale, then go for investors. Then it becomes easier with a product and with clients that are a proof that you have product-market-fit.

Last but not least, any final words Czech entrepreneurs chasing the startup dream?

When you have done your first startup, you will never want to go back to working in corporate for the rest of your life. Startup is a drug that requires all your talents and you are the master of your own dreams and destiny. You are not the cog, you are the machine.


Bára Třešňáková
Startup Enthusiast | Community Manager @ Spaceflow
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