Dipanshu “D” Sharma founded xAd in 2009 with the goal of conquering the mobile-local search and advertising markets in the U.S. For over a decade, D has found new ways to leverage technology and to improve business models for entrepreneurs and innovative companies. He previously developed new technologies for Nokia, as well as co-founded RockeTalk, India’s fifth-largest mobile traffic site, and Kadonk, the top Microsoft Project Viewer. He was named TeleFusion’s “Technology Leader of the Year” and was nominated for Ernst & Young’s “Entrepreneur of the Year.” D sits on the board of directors at xAd and Kadonk, and is a member of Veracity Wireless’ advisory board.
1. How do you define success?
For us at xAd, it’s about a relevant local ad experience that drives consumers to retail stores, and being able to do it at a global scale. For me personally, it’s about products that make our lives better.
2. What is the key to success?
Focus: Entrepreneurs have a lot of ideas and often companies fail from a lack of execution, rather than having the right idea.
People: Hiring “A players” is key. My philosophy is to hire someone who can do your job and make your job redundant. My team is self-sufficient, allowing me to focus on building the future of xAd.
Timing: All products can be too early to market or too late. While it is very difficult to time, there is no point in waiting forever for timing to happen. One way to check is to look at the dependencies for the business to be successful. For example, mobile technology companies before the open AppStore infrastructure could not really have been successful, as they lacked significant distribution. Online companies needed Internet adoption. The question you have to ask is, “Is the underlying infrastructure ready to scale?” Predicting the size of the market can be tricky. It’s easier to make a better product for an already-existing large market, like a better cellphone or wireless router. If you are coming up with something like Facebook or Twitter, then the guiding force is the rate of adoption for your product and/or technology.
3. Did you always know you would be successful?
Goes back to the definition of success, as there is a lot for me to do.
4. When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Focus on the plan and have the best people. When you face difficulties, just know that you have the right people coming up with the right solutions. Earlier in my career, I used to get stressed and overreact in trying to solve the problem, but that only makes things worse. Keep your calm and work on a solution. Have people with you that will support you through difficult times. When you are changing the world with your innovations, that’s all the motivation you need.
5. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
You can’t force timing. The ecosystem has to be ready for the product to succeed. Mobile companies largely failed until 3G and smartphones were introduced. Make sure you can scale without third party dependency.
There is no substitute for a great team, even if you have the right product, market, and timing. Having the right team is the only way to be successful. Most companies take longer than they should to bring experienced staff to their growing startups to help with the growth. It is very difficult for all the founding/early team members to be able to grow with a fast-growing company’s needs. Some entrepreneurs are great at starting an idea and bringing it to life and not so good at its growth, as they want to focus on the next one. Choose what kind of entrepreneur you want to be—serial entrepreneur: one that is product-focused and can bring innovation to the marketplace several times, or one that has the motivation to build a long-sustaining business. Either is the right answer, just knowing it is hard. Most of Twitter’s original founders are on their next companies that is actually a win-win, as Jack Dorsey (Twitter co-founder) is a very successful Square founder. Meanwhile, Steve Jobs and Larry Allison are classic entrepreneurs who built large successful businesses.
It’s also important to know when to exit. It’s a lot easier to exit a business at less than $20 million than $50 million+ and very hard over $200 million. If you are looking to raise money and also have an offer to exit (sell) the business, you should think very carefully on which path to take. Because you will own a large part of your company early on and a lot less of it as you raise money, your eventual financial outcome could be similar. An example would be Facebook, which did not take a $1 billion offer, and now it’s worth $200 billion. On the other hand, companies like Digg and Color could have had a better financial outcome than it eventually turned out to be.
6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
My family just started a charity to help poor kids with the basics (education, food, etc.). That project is gaining steam. I love watching “Shark Tank” and will have an “As Seen on TV” idea one day!
7. What makes a great leader?
The ability to listen. Ability to hire a great team. Be realistic (not overly optimistic or pessimistic). Surround yourself with very smart people. And while doing all that, have time to take care of your family and friends.
8. What advice would you give to college students about entering the workforce?
It’s an exciting time with so much changing in how we spend our daily lives. Find something that defines success for you and do it.
This interview is an excerpt from Success: 30 Interviews with Entrepreneurs & Executives by Jason Navallo.