Gurbaksh Chahal at DemoCamp 25

DemoCamp Toronto #25 was held last week, with the usual array of demos and an extra special keynote: Gurbaksh Chahal, the highly-successful serial entrepreneur currently engaged in GWallet, an online payment system. Previously, he sold his first company at the age of 18 for $40M, then built BlueLithium to a point where it was acquired by Yahoo for $300M, and there were a lot of eager people in the audience to hear how they could get replicate that sort of success. Some of them were carrying along copies of his book, The Dream, hoping for an autograph.

He had a great set of points that I tried to capture; with each of these, he included examples from his own life that made them relevant:

  • The idea is only 1%, the rest is execution.
  • Don’t get too attached to your ideas. Sometimes that idea that you start a company with is just a starter idea, it’s not the one that you want to take to completion.
  • The biggest ($) deals happen when a company is bought rather than sold; that is, the buyer seeks out the relatively scarce resource and offers based on the perceived value of that scarcity, rather than the seller putting themselves up for sale.
  • Hire only rock stars, pay them well, and let them share in the ultimate rewards. Expect long hours, hard work and brilliance from them.
  • Never leave yourself vulnerable; consider everyone replaceable.
  • Don’t expect charity or favors, especially your first time around.
  • Never raise money when you need it: get traction first and wait for the money to come to you.
  • Bring in venture capital even if you have the means to self-fund, since that brings other ideas and governance.
  • In budgeting and spending, understand the difference between need and necessity. Money is finite, spend like every dollar is your last. People will only be impressed by your performance, don’t worry about the fancy trappings.
  • Every entrepreneur needs confidence (or the appearance of it). In any meeting, focus the conversation on the purpose of that moment.
  • Relationships are everything in life and the business world. Never burn a bridge. They’re not buying a product, they’re buying you.
  • There are only 5 key decisions that you need to make in order to make or break your company – make them wisely. His example at BlueLithium: hiring dream team, acquiring AdRevolver, raising 11.5M, opening up Europe a year after the US, selling to Yahoo at the right time for 300M although board didn’t want to sell. Knowing which are the key decisions requires instinct.
  • Surround yourself with people who want to see you successful and who are hungry. You don’t want to reward people who don’t contribute: you need people who will take a risk with you, and get rewarded for it.
  • Embrace rejection. Everything happens for a reason, it makes you stronger.
  • Make decisions, even if they may be wrong.
  • Always negotiate from a position of strength. Perception is reality: show people what they want to see, and tell them what they want to hear. Believe in yourself and sell the dream: no product or sales pitch is perfect.
  • Grow a thick skin. People will question your ability to succeed.
  • Do the work. Keep your eye on the tiger. Fight like Hell, defy the odds. It’s worth it. Never compromise your morals.

The gate receipts from that night’s DemoCamp, usually put towards some food or drink for the attendees, were donated to support efforts in Haiti following the earthquake. All of us put in $2,580; Gurbaksh, who had promised to match that, ended up tossing in another $10,000.

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