Always innovating on his life, Steven Hoffman, known as Captain Hoff, has tried more professions than cats have lives, from game designer to venture capitalist. After starting three venture-funded startups in Silicon Valley, Hoffman launched Founders Space with the mission to educate and accelerate entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs. Founders Space has become one of the top startup accelerators in the world.
Jeffery: So I’ve known you for a long time, so I went back and looked and I met you 2010 when I came to some early events when you were just starting Founder Space. Now you have over 50 partners in 22 countries. What were the key choices you made to go from there to here?
Steve: I can tell you. So when we first met, I was really just beginning. It was just an experiment for me. I didn’t even think of it as a full-time job; I was just out there kind of helping friends doing business like you. We’re both guys here in Silicon Valley, we’ve both done a lot and I was helping out a lot of my friends get funded at the very beginning. You know, they came to me because I’d done startups: “where do you go? How do you get this done?” So I was helping them do that.
Then, I saw an opportunity, and I think really one of the keys to growing a business to becoming famous, to doing any thing that grows into something much larger is to recognize an opportunity when you see it. There are opportunities all around us everyday, and, you know, most of us walk right pass them… we never see them, including me, you know, if I saw these opportunities I would’ve started Uber or Airbnb or all these other things, but I didn’t see those opportunities.
But at least I found one opportunity that I did see at the right time when I was in the right place to do it. And that was, we had to position ourselves different than anybody else. So when you are doing anything in business, if you are the same as your competitors, you are instantly in “everybody destroys everybody” mode. It’s also competitive and it’s very hard for you to get out ahead of somebody else and actually make wave and become known for something because you’re just doing what everybody does so there is nothing special about you
Jeffery: I get it. So make a choice that distinguishes you from other people.
Steve: Yeah. In my business in particular, there are a lot of incubators here in Silicon Valley, a lot of people doing a lot of great stuff out there, like 500 startups. You know, they were ahead of us, but I saw that there was an opening… that innovation was happening globally, startups were sprouting up all over the world, and each of them had different advantages and disadvantages in each country, you know, everything from Israel doing high-tech security stuff to Germany with there precision machine, mechanics and all that and in China and all these other markets. I thought we will position Founder Space as the global incubator in accelerator. So instead of just bringing startup founders to Silicon Valley like our competitors, we would bring Silicon Valley to them. And that was just the fundamental decision at just the right time because that’s what the market wanted. There were all these startup founders all around the world who really wanted to form startups both here in Silicon Valley and learn from us, but also do it in there home country. And we became the one to kind of export the knowledge of Silicon Valley around the world.
Jeffery: Brilliant. You know, coming from that, you just came back from China and I followed your exploits on Facebook. You were speaker at all these events, you got a lot of press, but the phrase “with great power, come great responsibility” comes to mind. So what does that mean for you? You’re in the position of high public visibility in international relations, so what does this mean?
Steve: So it’s funny, because I’m well-known here in Silicon Valley now because of Founder Space, but I’m even better known abroad because we took that opportunity to become kind of the leader in global, so now I’m literally spending 70% of my time travelling, as you mentioned. I spend a lot of it in China and in china I’ve actually become a super star there, like, it’s bizarre to me, you know you say how did you get famous? I don’t even quite understand how it happened, but I’ll just enlightened you on this point and then I’ll get to your responsibility question, but my feeling was it happened because we had Founder Space already successful here and our mission was to bring Silicon Valley abroad and we came there at just the right time with Founder Space and just being there at the right time with the right thing more than anything else is what propelled us very quickly into kind of the star player in incubation in China if people wanted to get the knowledge we have in Silicon Valley. And so that was amplified even more abroad than in our own country.
Now, because I’m so well known in places like China, Korea, Thailand, all those countries, you asked the question about responsibility and I’ve actually thought about this quite a bit because I feel like I don’t want my life just to be about making just money because… well, we all want to make money and it’s nice to be well-known because it give you a lot of power to do a lot of things.