e27 was able to have a quick chat with the CEO and Founder of Exitround and Echelon 2014 keynote speaker, Jacob Mullins. The serial entrepreneur, Yale alumnus and Founder of the California-based acquisition marketplace has an extensive professional background, with prior stints in Shasta Ventures, Microsoft and VentureBeat. He was also responsible for the launch of Microsoft BizSpark in the US. In this brief one-to-one, he speaks of his professional journey, his entrepreneurial projects and what led him to Echelon 2014. He also talks about his future plans for the growth of Exitround in Asia.
An excerpt from the chat:
What led you to become an entrepreneur?
I grew up in the Bay Area in the 1990s, so I got to experience the technology boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s, until and through the dotcom crash and recovery. I’m rather people-focussed, so I wanted to do something that affected people’s lives. I started off reading political science and initially wanted to be a diplomat. I actually lived in France for a year as part of that ambition. I wanted to be able to affect geopolitical change meaningfully. However I was in college in 2003, and that was when the US went into Iraq. It got me disillusioned and I began to view diplomacy as something that was more about decorum, rather than affecting real change that mattered.
You have a BA (Political Science). How has that helped your entrepreneurship efforts?
It helped me in terms of thinking about how other people are going to be affected by my decisions and activities. As an entrepreneur, I think about the positive and negative outcomes affecting my customers and users, so that is an application of the cognitive structures I learnt in my education. I think a lot about our brand and the way our customers perceive us and how we perceive them, and I think about how the end-user feels through us, as part of a wider community of customers.
How did you start off?
I actually wanted to be an entrepreneur really badly, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. My best friend and I started a dietary supplement company based in South Africa, called Hoodia Products. I have a love of travel and international relations, so it kind of led me to this, venturing out of the US to start a business. I did Hoodia for about four years, and we distributed via contract manufacturers and online. It was never massively successful but it made me realise I wanted to be in a technology business. It’s more scalable than supplements or other industries. I wanted to be an entrepreneur, and the technology sector provided the ideal platform for it.
What would you consider your defining moment as an entrepreneur?
I don’t think I’ve reached it yet. What gives me more joy than anything is introducing people. The thing I love most is connecting people. It gives me a high, and to have a tech platform that enables that is amazing.
What are your future plans for Exitround in Asia?
To grow Exitround as quickly as possible. I intend to work with lots of organisations that work with startups. Incubators, accelerators, investors, media companies, service providers, basically all the players in the ecosystem. I aim to educate people about what we do. And what I’m doing with Exitround is creating a software bank of sorts. It’s somewhat like investment banking, we simply want to apply the model to software services.
What led you to Echelon 2014?
It seems like the Echelon conference is a strong hub for technology. Most other regions are quite fragmented, without a central organisation to pull together the constituents. Echelon and e27 consolidate and aggregate most of the SEA startup activity, so it made sense to come here and explore possibilities
Any advice for entrepreneurs looking to enter M&A or private equity?
We don’t build software until we understand how humans do the process organically. In these big but ultimately human-focussed markets, look at the processes and find out the inefficiencies in the market structures and processes. Because of the large transaction sizes, M&A and private equity are unusually human-centric and complicated. Spend time working with people involved in these deals and areas. Surround yourself with people who do it and understand the point where you can add value. Make sure you really understand the market and its processes. Looking into the sector from the outside allows you to see the possibilities, because you don’t know what is impossible, allowing you to innovate.