Silicon Valley Insights with Razmig Hovaghimian

Ready for more Silicon Valley Insights?! So are we. Our popular SVI series kicks off its 2016 run on March 29 at Cinema City Slovansky dum, and you are not going to want to miss our first guest.

Startup powerhouse and entrepreneur extraordinaire Razmig Hovaghimian’s road to success was not an easy one. He moved to the US alone and practically penniless from Cairo, Egypt when he was just 16, working the night shift at a gas station and eating the $1-menu at fast food restaurants to make ends meet. Eventually this kid with big dreams went on to graduate from UC Berkeley and Stanford University, transforming himself along the way into one of the most powerful forces on the global tech market.

A few years ago, Razmig sold his video-streaming startup Viki to Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten for $200 million. A former executive at NBCUniversal, he spent $900 million to acquire the messaging app Viber and another cool $1 billion to add the retailer Ebates to Rakuten’s (where he serves as senior executive officer of global content and board observer) growing empire.

Razmig is now working on a local news startup called Ripple and tapped STRV as a design and development partner. We are so pumped that he has agreed to headline the sixth installment of our Silicon Valley Insights series. Seating is limited, so reserve your ticket on Eventbrite today! The evening will be hosted by STRV CEO David Semerad, who will be flying in from California for the event.

We caught up with Razmig the other day and asked him a few questions to tide you over until March 29. (You’re welcome!)

You have quite an impressive resume, being the co-founder of two thriving startups — the non-profit Embrace while still studying at Stanford and the wildly successful video-streaming service Viki. Where do you get your inspiration?

I think I find inspiration when I feel I can contribute. I tend to get attracted to challenging things: in markets that are not yet built or by jumping on the burning ships instead of the rocket ships. It needs to be important work, with a sense of purpose. I typically get inspiration when there is a team to collaborate with on a hard problem. I also get inspired when there is a crazy sense of urgency needed.

Both Embrace [an affordable alternative to a premature infant incubator that was selected as an Innovative Technology for Public Health by the World Health Organization] and Viki had all that for me. We knew millions of newborns are at high risk of dying each year, while their parents don't have a fighting chance to save them. How could we not jump all in. With Viki, we were stubborn enough to believe we can convince Hollywood and global TV studios that a community of passionate fans can bring down language and cultural barriers by letting content flow globally. Ripple's inspiration is the same for me. There are so many untold stories around the world that matter. These are voices that need to be heard, especially the quietest ones.

From your perspective, what does it take to be a successful entrepreneur in Silicon Valley’s fiercely competitive climate?

I feel this is universal. Focus on the team, culture and product and make sure it's not a job. When it turns into a job, you lose your team, and it becomes very hard to drive towards a vision. You need ownership, a bit of delusion and a lot of grit. It's win or die. You can’t force culture. It needs time, cultivation and history. When a strong and authentic culture is formed, regardless of where you are, it is a tremendous competitive advantage.

Do you have any rules you always follow when doing business with someone?

Trust first. Don't make the same mistake twice.

What are the challenges in doing business across the world? Any interesting Asian, European and US differences?

We are more alike than we are different. Once you find the lowest common denominator in the product / service that people in more than one country obsess over, essentially finding a product-multi-market fit, then you are on the path to global. At that point, the focus becomes on our “differences” — localizing and finding the unique characteristic of each market to execute at scale.

What do you think are currently the biggest business opportunities?

I wish I know! They're probably six to 12 months away, but we don't see them yet. I like the potential of conversational bots and the convergence of VR and edutech.

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