And now, some tips from seasoned entrepreneurs.

A highlight of the CED Tech Venture conference earlier this week was a panel discussion from venture capital investors. Entrepreneurial perspectives followed on day two. The Tech Leaders Panel featured Matt Lauzon, founder and CEO of online jewelry company Gemvara; Marten Mickos, CEO of open source cloud computing platforms company Eucalyptus Systems; Michael Olson, CEO of open source software company Cloudera; and LogMeIn CEO Michael Simon. The panel was moderated by Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst.

Here’s some of what the entrepreneurs had to say.

Talking to VCs

Entrepreneurs clamor to get the ear of venture capitalists but Mickos said one of his most important lessons was learning to interpret what the VCs were saying. Or rather what they weren’t saying.

“If a VC gives a ‘maybe’ answer, it means ‘no,’” he said.

It’s important for entrepreneurs to develop relationships with venture capitalists before needing money. If you go to talk and ask for input not money, the answer is more likely to be, ‘yes.’”

Asking for money is a yes or no question, Simon said. Seeking advice starts a dialogue that may lead to other opportunities.

And when you finally get money, be disciplined. Olson said that upon coming into a large amount of money, it’s human nature to want to spend it right away. Resist. Don’t spend because you can, spend because you see an opportunity to grow the business.

Engage with your peers. And with your customers.

Simon said that its’ important to set up peer groups. He meets routinely with a group of other CEOs from other companies. Despite their different industries, Simon said they all learn from each other. Entrepreneurs also learn from the customer community. Some of the best feedback comes from the angriest customers, Mickos said.

You need the strength to treat them well while you address their needs. If you don’t, you lose them as customers and you destroy your user community. Olson said that CEOs must engage their customers sincerely, whether that is on Twitter or another forum.

As CEO, the only information you get is bad news, Olson said. It’s hard but that information is important to hear.


Lauzon sheepishly acknowledged that he had checked Twitter on his phone during the panel discussion. That said, he insisted it’s important for entrepreneurs to manage distractions.

Keep your eye on your “North Star,” the main guiding vision for your company.
Olson said that Cloudera has grown to 300 people but the company is just as resource contrained now as it was when it was just four people. That means the company needs to make careful choices.

“You need to choose the things you will not work on as rigorously as you choose the things that you will,” Olson said.

Does location matter?

Lauzon said he located Gemvara in Boston because the region offered three things: access to capital, access to talent and access to a support network of advisors. But he added that those factors are not exclusive to the Boston area. “I suspect that dynamic is here (in the Triangle), and many other places as well,” he said.

Olson said that Cloudera has different reasons to explain its various office locations. The space in Silicon Valley gives it access to talent. But its offices in other sites around the country give it access to customers. Geography can help grow a company’s customer base. But the world is now flat, Mickos said. A company can be built almost anwhere.

More important than geographical location is an entrepreneurial spirit. “You don’t have to be in Silicon Valley,” Mickos said. “But Silicon Valley has to be in you.”