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Best Practices for Young Leaders: An Interview with Two Founders Under 25

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 19/02/2016 Claire Topalian
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I had the opportunity to catch up with two young founders recently: Nadya Nguyen, founder and CEO of Hidrate Spark and Andrew Torba, founder and CEO of Automate Ads. Although Nadya and Andrew have different backgrounds and journeys, they share a similar entrepreneurial spirit that, for both leaders, was instilled from an early age. Below, they share a bit about what shaped them early on to become the entrepreneurs they are today, some of the most challenging moments in their startup journey, and the personal traits they lean on most for success.
What events in your life could be considered your earliest exposure to entrepreneurialism or an entrepreneurial mentality?Nadya: My parents are both entrepreneurs, but out of necessity. They moved to Russia from Vietnam in their 30s, just before the USSR fell, while there was still a huge shortage of goods. They saw an opportunity to run an important business. My mother and father both started multiple businesses over the years. They were successful, they also went through a bankruptcy. The biggest thing I learned from them is diligence.
When I came to the United States for school, I spent a lot of time working for TED locally and I learned about different perspectives and opportunities by meeting so many speakers. They made me understand that it's really up to you to make things happen.
Andrew: When I was in 8th grade I watched the movie The Pirates of Silicon Valley, which covered the early days of Apple and Microsoft. It was after watching that movie I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. Like many, I was particularly drawn to the rebelliousness that Steve Jobs had as an entrepreneur. For most of my life I had pictured entrepreneurs as men and women in suits following a strict sense of business rules and etiquette. Jobs really destroyed that stereotypical archetype in my mind and inspired me to chase my own dream of being a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. Fast forward a decade later and I'm now living my dream from the 8th grade.
Growing up, did you ever suspect you'd become an entrepreneur? What do you think led you to this path at such an early age?Nadya: When I got to the U.S. for college, my goal was to stay here. The best way to do this is through a stable job and by acquiring a VISA. While I was in school, I learned about different paths, which helped me realize that entrepreneurship was possible. We often limit ourselves to the constraints that are not true. We think we have to wait for permission or climb the ladder step by step.
Andrew: When I was young my dad would take me to computer fairs a lot and we always had the latest gadget around the house. I was always fascinated and curious about technology and how fast it was changing the world. To me the Internet and technology offered the limitless possibility to express my creativity and curiosity. Entrepreneurship by nature is itself the limitless possibility to express creativity by solving real problems in the world.
What personal traits do you have that have helped you the most to be a leader and decision-maker for your company?Nadya: Resiliency and a good balance of logic and intuition.
Andrew: One of the most important traits any leader should have is humility. Knowing what I don't know and being humble enough to admit that and seek help from an expert is one of my most powerful traits as a leader.
What were the most nerve-wracking moments or chapters in your company's journey? How did you get through those times?Nadya: There was a time, right in the middle of Techstars, that we thought we wouldn't have a company. We had a great team, a functional prototype...and no idea who our core adopters are (if there are any at all). That made us double down and figure out exactly who our market is. For us, the key was not to search among those who want the product or think that it's a good idea, but those who absolutely need it.
Andrew: When we decided to make the transition from a services business to a technology business we took a big risk. We ended a lot of our service relationships and money was getting very tight while we tried to get customers using the software product. At the verge of reaching our breaking point we applied and were accepted into Y Combinator. This changed the game for us and allowed us to continue building the product and growing our revenue to reach sustainability again. There have been several examples like this on our journey. I love the metaphor of a diamond to describe situations like this. A diamond requires pressure and time to develop, but the end result is one of the most beautiful objects in the world. Entrepreneurs face a similar process of time and pressure at various points in their journey that shape them into diamonds.
Hidrate Spark successfully fundraised $600,000 via Kickstarter (well surpassing their goal of $38,000) with backing from 8,000 people. The product is in final testing stages and is set to ship in April. Automate Ads recently closed their seed round in June 2015, and the team of 5 works out of San Mateo, California, where their product is used by thousands of advertisers in over 65 countries.

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