[Expert] Founders should learn how to listen to their users – Joe Vasquez, investor and founder of Michelson Runway Accelerator

Joe Vasquez has been involved in startups ever since. While he was at Stanford University, he co-founded StartX Accelerator – one of the top accelerators in USA. For the last couple years he’s been managing partnerships at Runway Incubator. Now he is starting Michelson Runway Accelerator that focuses on educational technology.

Joe was born deaf, but as he says, he has the ability to listen incredibly well (not to mention that he also fluently speaks several languages!). Joe strongly emphasizes the importance of empathy, listening to users and continuous learning – components of lean startup method that Joe implements in his programs.

In the interview we talk about: Why Joe decided to focus on startups that are working on improving educational system? What was his experience in gaining education as a deaf child? What’s the difference between an accelerator and an incubator? Do accelerators in Silicon Valley compete with each other? What’s the most common mistake that startup founders make? Is it true that Silicon Valley is very welcoming to the founders who have failed before? What founders should remember about in their pitch to investors? How they can make the best use of Silicon Valley when they arrive here?

Watch the interview and learn a bunch of great tips!

A lovely shout out to our partners: Runway Incubator for providing amazing space and to StyleBee for fabulous styling (use a special promo code VALLEYTALKS for $25 OFF of your first styling by StyleBee!)
A BIG thank you to our sponsor UnStock — an on demand community and marketplace for mobile videographers.

Here are some highlights from the interview:

  • Education is where a lot of innovation is needed fast:

    “Right now higher education is extremely difficult to navigate. You have scholarships, debt, terrible mentorship and a lot of challenges, that average student might not know how to navigate.”

  • For Joe, it was tough to attend ‘normal school’ while being born deaf:

    “My main language is sign language. I went to all deaf school for about 3 years. I remember being surrounded by supportive people. But my father was very adiment that I’d become mainstream and go to a ‘normal school.’ The transition was extremely challenging for me. But one thing I really was able to take away from it was the ability to listen.”

  • This is why Michelson Runway Accelerator focuses on a narrow field which is edtech:

    “You have these great programs: StartX, AngelPad, Y Combinator, 500 Startups – all of these great programs, that are providing resources for general startups. We wanted to be a little more niche, and actually have a more defined impact.”

  • Founders often make a primary mistake in not listening to their users:

    “People are so stuck on their idea. They might have the coolest innovation. They might think they are fundamentally solving a problem. But if they are not able to listen to users and to listen to a community, then their product will not actually have an impact.”

    “It’s OK to be wrong, and changing your product is something that is ok. Some people struggle with that.”

  • Unlike any other places, Silicon Valley really supports founders that failed:

    “We like founders who admit that they failed before. Failure is somewhat of a hallmark of successful entrepreneur in Silicon Valley.”

  • Blending into the community in Silicon Valley is number one step after coming here with your startup:

    “The challenge that I see particularly in a lot of Asian startups, is that they will come over, they’ll have this specific Japanese incubator, Korean lab or something specific to people they know, but they don’t actually go out and merge into the community. So go to parties of people that you’ve never met before. Go to different groups or meet ups. Start meeting people who are not like you, because that diversity of thought will allow you to make your technology startup much more successful.”


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