“It’s really hard to ride the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. I tell the guys I’m mentoring, I’ve not had it easy either – we all go through the same ordeals.”
Jack Huang MBA2009 co-founded Truly Experiences, a VC-backed ecommerce service offering imaginative high-end gift experiences “for people who collect memories, not stuff” in 2012. Previously he’d held positions at Deloitte and Accel. “Everything else I’ve done has been a cakewalk compared to this,” he says. “It’s really hard to grow a business. You have to be deeply passionate about the product or solution you’re offering, or you won’t be able to stomach it.”
Jack received a lot of help from the LBS community he reached out to at the start of his own entrepreneurial journey. “Mentoring is just a simple way of paying it forward. It’s really hard to ride the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. I tell the guys I’m mentoring, I’ve not had it easy either – we all go through the same ordeals. I tell them what I would do in their shoes.”
What are the typical issues a fledgling entrepreneur struggles with? “Sometimes it’s about formulating their hypothesis. Often they’re looking to come up with a roadmap. Or it may be the micro details – the initial tech builds, for example. They have an idea, they know the theory, but they need help with the execution. They often think too broadly and try to solve 4,000 problems at once. That’s a heavy time drain. I can help them prioritise, based on my own experience and all the mistakes that I’ve made.”
Time is the most precious resource for an entrepreneur. “When you first start out, the number of things that could sidetrack you is astonishing. When they say, “My execution plan has 14.8 steps,” I say, “Well actually, just concentrate on these two.” He’s also in a great position to share invaluable ‘underground knowledge’ around fundraising – which venture capitalist to go to, who to avoid.
It’s a mistake, he says, to see your venture in purely commercial terms. Some people, who could get a six-figure salary with another bank or hedge fund tomorrow, start telling Jack all about how they’re going to make their first billion in their very first conversation. Avoid that mindset, he says. “There are so many easier ways to make money. What you should be thinking about is whether what you’re offering actually solves a consumer pain.”
The other kind of doomed person is someone who has a fixed solution stuck in their head and is desperately trying to find a problem that their solution could fit. “They’re starting with a product insight, not a customer insight.”
Giving up his time to mentor others has also helped Jack to be better at his work, he insists. Bouncing ideas around helps him go on developing and codifying his own thinking. “It’s never a one-way street. A good mentorship relationship goes both ways. The very act of information exchange, if it’s done at the right level, means both parties walk away with a slightly different point of view.”
Typically, he meets the students for coffee a couple of times a month. “The relationship goes forward because entrepreneurship is not a one-problem-solved event. It’s a continuous flux of problems you have to tackle – and at different stages you have different problems. So, once you get to that next stage, we can talk again.” Along the way, he has made some great friends.
Jack says LBS is unusually collegiate, partly because so many students aren’t from London. “Everyone’s far away from home.” Alumni from other schools are surprised at the collaborative vibe. “They say, ‘Wow, you guys actually like each other!’ Other schools have a competitive culture. Here, people help each other get jobs. It’s a great environment. You meet a lot of smart-thinking people and you mature in your thinking. Being an undergrad is like being at primary school. LBS is that next iteration. It’s a great place to reflect and reinvent yourself.”
What are Jack’s top tips for entrepreneurs? “One: always reverse vest your shares with your co-founders. Splitting it 50:50 is the easiest answer, but not always the right answer. Two: objectively test each of your hypotheses before rushing to build a product, it'll save you a lot of money and time.” Beyond that: “Focus on what’s important to you in this phase of your life. Focus on what makes you happy.”
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Jack Huang was a recipient of the MBA LBS Fund Scholarship