Fay Arjomandi launched three mobile technology startups between 2000 and 2010. Today, she's head of Vodafone Ventures, tech investment arm of the British telecom giant. She also runs Vodafone xone, a Redwood City research lab that funds and incubates mobile-centric startups.
In our latest Elevator Pitch, Arjomandi talks about why venture capitalists are insanely keen on mobile right now and compares Silicon Valley with other parts of the world.
Q How'd you get into this racket?
A The path of an entrepreneur is rarely what you imagine in the beginning. As an engineer by trade, I've always been guided by my intuition and passion for technology and for turning business models on their heads.
I started my first business at a very young age in the (United Arab Emirates). I consider Vodafone xone my fourth startup and myself as a co-founder. I am now helping other "inventorpreneurs."
Q What kinds of pitches are you looking for now?
A The mobile Internet has become an essential part of our daily lives. We are always multitasking: Working, shopping and communicating with friends thousands of miles away via our mobile devices. But we are really at the very early stages, and there is still great potential for improvement.
A watch can notify a physician that a patient took her prescription, a shirt can send information on a patient's heart rate, a refrigerator can order food and the supermarket can send the delivery notice to a mobile phone. These kinds of services will become commercially viable only if you have inexpensive and small hardware with smart software. We look for and work with all types of mobile technologies -- from software-enabled hardware to smart communication solutions that use data analytics.
Q What's the biggest mistake entrepreneurs make?
A The first mistake I see is that they overlook the practical challenges of taking a product to market. All too often, an entrepreneur is so "in love" with his or her own product that they assume the market will fall in love as they have. They do not properly prepare for the long haul -- the gathering of investors, production, sales, etc.
Their other common mistake is developing another "me too" solution. This is the one area where entrepreneurs must pay special attention.
Q What's the next big thing going to be?
A The most exciting inventions are those that aren't predicted or envisioned. However, there are some interesting trends.
In just over two decades, the number of mobile subscribers throughout the world has exploded; there are around 6.8 billion today, equivalent to 96 percent of the world population. That indicates how essential mobile communications are becoming to our day-to-day existence -- even in isolated areas where basic amenities hardly exist. Mobile telephony has saved the lives of women and children in remote villages of Africa by empowering them to ask for their medication by simply sending a text message.
But we still have a highly fragmented experience. Our content is all over the place, and we have to make a huge effort moving it around. The communication across different access networks isn't seamless -- different ecosystems provide completely different experiences.
We are in what I call the ecosystem tsunami, where traditional players in each sector are racing to define their roles. New companies are replacing the old guard. The connected generation is a multitask-oriented generation that is no longer connected with one device over a single network at a time. They surf the Net while watching TV, tweet a friend while responding to a work email and deposit a check into their bank accounts by taking a picture using a mobile device.
There is huge potential for the Internet to be personalized for individuals vs. being a generic platform. The future is all about "me" -- my content, my finance, my news, my friends and my type of restaurant. This is what has come to be known as the "Internet of Me."
Q Vodafone's based in the U.K., and most of your previous career was in Canada. What's it been like to operate in Silicon Valley?
A I'm a global citizen. I left Iran when I was a teenager and lived, studied and worked in the UAE, Sweden, Turkey, Canada and China. I honestly don't see any difference in operating in Silicon Valley compared with other regions. When you love what you do, you learn how to utilize the advantages that the environment offers you.
However, there is one thing I find unique to Silicon Valley, and that is how relatively homogeneous the area is in the high-tech sector. It reminds me of a university, where everybody is similar in age and all aiming for the common goal of graduating. Everyone helps each other out, while there is also a healthy underlying competition. That makes the area quite unique compared with other regions.
Q You were a serial entrepreneur before joining Vodafone in 2011. Was it a tough switch from running startups to working for a huge telecom company?
A An entrepreneur gets excited by the opportunity to solve a problem and have an impact. I joined Vodafone to help many startups and have a bigger impact than creating only one company.
I usually refer to it as "giving startups what I wish I'd had available when I was running my startups."
Contact Peter Delevett at 408-271-3638. Follow him at Twitter.com/mercwiretap.