10:50 | 23.03.17 | Interviews | exclusive 101069

American investor talks unspoken rules of Silicon Valley

Corey Ford is Managing Director at Matter accelerator that provides seed investment for American media startups. This San Francisco-based accelerator admits applications from startups worldwide.

During the ROCKIT forum in Warsaw last month, Itel.am talked with Corey Ford, who invested in two Armenian startups as well.

- You invested in Razmig Hovaghimian’s Ripple and Lara Setrakian’s NewsDeeply. How did you find them?

- Actually, I found News deeply. They made Syria Deeply, I was very impressed by that. We were doing one of our demo days in New York City, and I was just looking around on the Web to find who’s doing interesting work in order to invite them to come to our demo day. That’s how I found Lara Setrakian by their website, and I emailed them to come and see what we were doing. And then relationship started. I just offered to coach her and be helpful, then that turned into an investment and coming into the program.

We are also investors in Hovaghimian’s Ripple. Actually, I was a classmate with Razmig in business school. We followed each other’s work, and when he said that the next startup he was starting after Viki was going to be focused on media and journalism and he had a real passion around that, I said, well, we’re the perfect place for you, so we ended up with an investment.

-Who can apply for Matter acceleration program?

- We just opened up applications. We’re seeking twelve media startups – 6 that will be based in San Francisco and 6 that will be based in New York City. But the startups can come from anywhere. We want to invest in the best entrepreneurs in the world.

However, there are two things - first is immigration. The startups need to be able to be in the United States for the twenty weeks of the program and we don’t have the ability to give visas. So, it depends on how complicated that is from the country that you’re coming from.

The second is what entity you are asking us to invest in, because we’re investors. If you want to raise money in the United States and in the Silicon Valley, the starting point for investment is Delaware C-Corps. It’s just the type of legal structure, the legal language of investment.

We want to set the startups up for success not just in our initial investment, but when other investors look at them.

- 90% of startups fail at Silicon Valley. How would you advise to overcome the fear of failure?

- Here is the news: most entrepreneurs fail, regardless of nationality. You need two and a half years before you actually succeed, so hurry up and fail so that you get another chance.

I think entrepreneurs from outside of Silicon Valley can increase the likelihood of their success by landing in a community, which is there to support them.

Entrepreneurship is quite a long journey, so just showing up at Silicon Valley with no connections or anything would be hard. For instance, we share with our startups the valuable contacts with some of the top people in Silicon Valley and media.

It is very hard to answer at once the question whether you should start immediately at Silicon Valley or it would be better to build something in Armenia first. On the other hand, the more you test your product on small markets before entering the bigger ones, the better your business will get.

However, you could spend a year and a half working on something you thought to be valuable, while you can find out in only 12 hours at Silicon Valley, that you are totally wrong.

I would say the following: try to get exposure as soon as possible. If you want to go to Silicon Valley, just go and get exposure. Do not expect to receive investments at once. Instead try to do your best in what you are doing.

Take the list of those questions and ask yourself whether you are doing this.

photo © From personal archive

- Being an American investor, would you invest in an Armenian startup or you consider it much riskier?

- I hope I will be able to answer this question positively sometime in the future, but right now we are focused on startups, which we can work with side by side. Physical presence is really important, but being near your customer is also essential. So it is a balance, but it would be highly unlikely right now that we invest in an Armenian-based startup, which plans to stay there long-term.

I might have a different answer to that question next year.

Currently I invest in two startups founded by Armenians, so who knows, maybe I will come to meet the third one.

Narine Daneghyan talked to Corey Ford