Pivoting as a Startup Ep 9 with Jason and Sergio


Sergio Smirnoff


Mr. Smirnoff is creative, out of the box positive thinker, fuses a background in design and academics with expertise in business. He was invited as a speaker at the Latam Design Encounter 3 consecutive years to share his experience in the field. Some of his work is published in international specialized books. He is a serial entrepreneur who began his own path more than 20 years ago funding his own marketing agency back in Argentina and from there jumped into tech startups. A path that brought him straight to Silicon Valley to seed his ideas on fertile soil.

Jason Selfie1.jpg

Jason Nyeh

A Bay Area local, Entrepreneur Evangelist believes in learning and growing, building relationships and organizations that makes a difference, utilizing his “Why” and thinking beyond outside of the box creating phenomenal results.  He has held leadership roles in marketing, sales, business development, project management, training, and consultation in industries, such as Fintech, Healthcare, Medical IOT, Travel & Hospitality.  He is also an advisor and mentor helping aspiring professionals, startups, and entrepreneurs to be top players in Silicon Valley and other markets, such as China and India.  Self-motivated and stellar leader describe Jason’s personality.  In his leisure time, he loves traveling, networking, and volunteering in various communities.

Show Announcer 0:04

Welcome to Silicon Valley successes, we interview experts and entrepreneurs to get the world access to the knowledge and experience that is here in Silicon Valley. Our mission is to create opportunities for those who seek them and help you to become the next Silicon Valley success.

Shawn Flynn 0:24

a smart man learns from his mistakes, but a wise man learns from the mistakes of others. On today's show. We have two serial entrepreneurs that have made a lot of mistakes in their past, but have done some amazing things. So luckily, we're here today at Silicon Valley successes so that you can learn from these life events. And that can help you improve and make progress in what you want to do. My name is Sean Flynn. I've been in Silicon Valley now for number of years, working with accelerators, incubators, Angel groups, startups, dabbling a little bit of everything. And there's been many times that there's been knowledge that I wish I had. So without further ado, I'd like to introduce our guest today. Jason and Sergio. Jason, could you start by please introduce yourself?

Jason Nyeh 1:04

Yes, definitely. Hi. My name is Jason. Jason a definitely a serial or event. entrepreneur. evangelists. definitely been born here in the Bay Area, born, raised, have several startups within FinTech, travel, hospitality, healthcare, medical, all within AI machine learning blockchain IoT as well. So yeah,

Shawn Flynn 1:29

nice. And Sergio.

Sergio Smirnoff 1:31

So I came from Argentina two years ago, actually born in Argentina, and came here two years ago to the cradle of tech, like engage with all sorts hope going on here. And I haven't been involved with tech and startup since like many years ago. And when I left my branding and design background behind and jump into this crazy world, but very exciting. So first questions for both of you, Jason, if you want to start it with an answer, that'd be great.

Shawn Flynn 2:04

Yeah. Ok. So the companies you've had in the past, you've mentioned you've had several? Chris, at any time did you have to pivot with any of those companies? And what was the decision to pivot why

Jason Nyeh 2:16

definitely pivot is really fundamental in terms of having a startup, especially within the learning curve, and particularly the resources. So in terms of pivoting, it makes sense because in terms of team or development, or market research, or even launching your own product into the market, and you have to see how it fits within the users and the clients. And you have to definitely have to pivot to make it work. Sometimes there might be some competitors, or maybe the team might not work. So pivoting is really, really fundamental. And a lot of people don't really realize how important it is,

Sergio Smirnoff 2:59

actually, let's go back. So I forgot to really even define what pivot is Jason Richards, you do you have a good definition of in your mind what it is to pivot? Well, I would say, first of all, it's like, change, adapt. And so you learn, you understand what's going on, because you have like, certain kind of like assumptions, and then you realize that the things are not got how you spec that are going to be, so you need to change. So let's say I go in that direction. That's my long term vision. And probably I'm going to keep going in that way. But in that way, that path, maybe I need to change lane. So I pivoted, I like, move myself from the path I was going to, I may might be like, keep going in that way, but in a different way, but not so different. So I'm not changing entirely what I was doing, or that was willing to be bought it let's say, change. Yeah, it's a good like, so this change be okay, what we thought we're going to do for the next month or three months, we're going to do something completely different? Or could this change be we were going in this direction? Now, we're changing the whole business plan and everything to do this, are those both possibilities?

Well, I would say that maybe depends on what you learn.

I think that pivot can be like anything, you can change the customer, you can change the target, you can change how you introduce your product, because you realize that the way you are like showing it, you're introducing their the product to the customers is not the right way, maybe you believe you have like a fate a customer faith, and it's not. So maybe you just pivot how you say it to a different kind of like people or maybe like a target. That's a very marketing like concept.

So I would say that can be like mostly everything,

Shawn Flynn 4:58

you're in a company from Big, big point of view, or maybe it's some small pivots to say, maybe the marketing department alone could pivot, but the rest of the company stays the same?

Jason Nyeh 5:10

Well, I believe that, yes, you should have a clear vision of your business. And where is this headed vision is very, very important. Of course, you want to focus within the presence term, but you have to see the future vision. And once you see the future vision, that's why a lot of startups, even companies, they kind of make that mistake and kind of tend to forget about the vision because they're too concentrated within the presence. So you want to make sure that you focus within the future terms of the vision. And then while you're pivoting, right, it can be in different perspective of the department. However, division is always clear. Well, you could definitely pivot in terms of the market, or even make additions to the product to fit in the niche of the the market. So once you pivot in that direction, then makes more sense in a lot more clientele or even users will be more Intel to use your product. Can you tell me about planning a pivot or the strategy behind it? What's the thought process?

Sergio Smirnoff 6:19

I think too much? No, no, no, no, maybe something I don't know, Jason, maybe you can help me with that. But I think that maybe something that you can like, for scene, it's something that just happened because it's an this lean process, when you learn some things, the lean process, though, yeah, that labor is like, okay, you do something you presented, you show it to your customers, you get feedback, you learn. So from this learning, you need to change to adapt, you presented again, and so on. So it's like a positive circle of like, getting better and better what you're doing to get the right fit for your customer. Because the same time you'll looking for a long term vision, not stuck in certain kinds of features. Because if I'm starting certain feature, or I believe that that feature is going to like crush it is going to be amazing. But if I lose the long term, the big vision, as Jason said, I'm focusing on something that the public is may or may not be interested, maybe today, maybe in the future will be. But to get there, I need to learn from them today. That's the lean thing, you get their learning and changing and adapting. So you're pivoting somehow.

Jason Nyeh 7:35

So more so within just a piggyback of what he was saying, also, to have a strategic plan and strategize as well as pivoting while you're doing it. Giving example such as chest once you bought to move a piece, right, or make a move within the market or within your business, you always have to see the other component company got components, you know, in terms of not just competitors, but what's going to happen, once you make that move? What are the other things that is going to be in place? And then how are you going to take your next move, so, then you kind of for see it already. But once you make that move, and sisters, whatever such and such happens, then you are kind of foresee it, then you kind of pivoted to make the right move, and you learn from it. So that's a really good example about that, for

Shawn Flynn 8:27

startups, early stage companies, the teams are very small. Who's making the decision to pivot is it the founder, the team potential investors, feedback from customers who's kind of guide in this?

Jason Nyeh 8:41

Well, I believe it will be more on all all sorts of factors that you will make a decision because it shouldn't be solely yourself as a startup, because I previously my ex

Unknown 8:57

was my real life story, then,

Unknown 9:01

okay, is a actually a business partner,

Unknown 9:07

he or she may have

Jason Nyeh 9:12

made most of the decisions. And even when we already got a lot of information, feedback from the market and what the decision should be, which would make more sense, he didn't listen to any of us. And he just made the decision. Then after he made this decision, he's he finally realized that, Oh, you guys were right. So that actually cost us a lot, you know, time money and so forth. So if best way to put it is to actually have everybody cohesively be within the team, and we all make the decision together and see who you know, to make a correct. So then,

Shawn Flynn 9:52

yeah, in a situation like that. So you had a team of three, two people wanted to move forward in one direction. And one guy over, we're powered the other two and was making all the decisions.

Unknown 10:05

Yes? What happens is that I mean, such a small team, I mean, everyone's doing everything.

Shawn Flynn 10:12

In some cases, do you think you would get rid of that one person from the team, or replace that one person or separate the company or just go, Hey, you know, he wants this or even though we don't believe it's the right way, we're still gonna fall like, how, how's the decision process there? Why did he get more power than the two of you guys? Did he put more money in? Did he just yell more like what happened?

Jason Nyeh 10:37

So what happened was that he actually burned a lot of money

to be exact, about 2.5 million. So that's where it becomes more real. And then we had to pivot probably like, twice quickly to get him out of the equation and tried to Senor catch up on everything that we had, you know, kind of put forth on into the company. So that's a huge, huge learning curve that not to do

Unknown 11:11

or what did the investors say, during this whole time when they saw the money being burned?

Unknown 11:16

Oh, so we'll talk about

Jason Nyeh 11:20

they actually, well, of course, they were upset and we just had to learn from our mistakes, kind of made sure and talk to investors, we should that we want to, you know, kind of make it right, and this is our strategy and plan moving forward, and what would be a strategy plan and that's how we kind of pivot on the right direction to move forward. So then it will be much more successful surgery. Have you heard any stories of

Shawn Flynn 11:47

a team that didn't want to pivot or pivoted in the wrong direction? I guess

Sergio Smirnoff 11:53

in the wrong one? I'm not sure I remember a good one. Okay. Tell the story. Yeah, well, I don't know if you are familiar with that. It's like when Facebook's are growing its many people know about it is like soccer. Berg get the entire university under Facebook. And he wants to add new universities to the network. But everything nobody wants to add somebody from outside because they believe that that university was like an elite thing. So he said, what, what where when did you make the decision to actually listen to like, investors customers when so sometimes you have to follow your gut or don't so this guy mark to the decision to bring more comp more universities in besides what all the people in the network said against that, but more people he brought in the network grow better and stronger. So going back to what he said about Okay, we need to hear everybody. But if you have the long term vision, what do you want for in the long term, I would say it's a kind of pivot the this network startup get small thing for one college, one university, and then they start like, changing and adapting to make it like bigger, so they change what a let's go for more people how we can make it happen. So they grow

based on exactly that bringing all of these people against what the people they already have in the network didn't want to. So it's, it's a weird thing is, well, I need to listen, I don't need to listen. But if you have like a strong point of view, and you'll have like to fight against, like 2.5,

I would say, well, that's why you said like a CEO would certain kind of like stocks and and wherever the founders in certain point, you need to like vote to people are not to pivot in well, straight for. But going back to your previous question. When I say okay, these guys need to go move out, split the company or don't I believe you should have like a strong team. That's the more basic thing. And if we all agree, let's say we are a team, we all agree, okay. That's the vision. And sometimes maybe

you need to people to get there evenly knowing that that is not going to be your real life business. So we get there changing here, but still knowing that we want to get there and we're going to change again. Okay. Yeah. So it's something that the LinkedIn founder said many times is you you do things that doesn't grow to get there. So it's like, interested.

Unknown 14:54


Shawn Flynn 14:56

very interesting. And if you want more information, you can visit our websites, Silicon Valley's successes. com Once again, that's Silicon Valley successes, calm, but we have all our episodes information and a lot more resources for you at home. So back to Jason, question for you. Okay, we've talked about pivoting, we've talked about your team, what is it a team meeting look like, kind of the planning of a pivot? Are there step guidelines that you follow? Do you normally plan you know, CTO does this CFO does this, I do this for the next week, what does it look like for someone that's, that's not in that room?

Unknown 15:36

Well, it kind of looks more of course, which I'm making more fun

Jason Nyeh 15:42

and you know, not too serious, you know, of course, but everybody first of course realize the vision and knows what to do but is very important to have a strategic plan in and we kind of outline it before any meeting is very crucial to also have an agenda while we've Welcome to you know, discuss we're going to talk about and we will have all the team formulate in the same room, Dan most importantly is to write everything down and outline it once you write things down in outline it it becomes more tangible, everybody likes to see more more instead of intangible things LSE tangible things. So you you see things guide it within the outline. So what my task would be what you know, the CEO tasks will be the CFO tasks would be the CMO tasks will be then is then you spread it out to their specific task. And what do you want to be targeting to achieve and execute to the given vision. And given path that we're going to go for

Shawn Flynn 16:45

as a startup? Would you say you have to be kind of self managing for being micromanage. I mean, there's no one on the team to really manage, even though there is that CEO structure, you know, he's at the top with just three or four people,

Unknown 17:01

everyone, more or less as, equals or correct,

Jason Nyeh 17:03

right. So who manages who and who really can can push your drive the team, I believe, is more having the discipline for each other, to trust each other as a team to know what are the task and what are each person duties are. And if they don't do it, then we all of us, all three of us will have to be accountable for each other's so like, Oh, you can do it, like what's going on how come and then you have to definitely have to have a transparent kind of discussion. And once you have that, then you can actually flow towards the right direction. I don't believe that it should be just one individual, I believe, because everybody is have their own talent or experience in expertise. So then we once we formulate in all work all together and not micromanage or anything like that, Dan, he actually become much more successful. And we could see to the next level

Shawn Flynn 18:01

Has anyone been in that situation where maybe the company you're thinking, maybe we need to pivot, but in reality, just need to replace someone on the team?

Unknown 18:12

Yeah, what happened there?

Unknown 18:15


Unknown 18:17

a guy

Unknown 18:19

hypothetically speaking, and Paul

Sergio Smirnoff 18:22

would say, for argument's sake, and in a team of three or four people

will realize that certain position, we have a person that for certain amount of time, and in certain path of growth will work, and he's going to, like, fit that path in that very moment. But in certain moment, when the company like have like a quantum leap, we need to jump for that guy, maybe wasn't the right fit there, because he wasn't able to catch up because of the needs of the company. So great opportunities came up. And he's like, Okay, this guy, john, not Paul is like, okay, honey, can you handle this? Can you do that, in this amount of time, we have a, an amazing opportunity, huge situation, okay, let's take advantage of it, that he couldn't catch up. So

as a company as the people who wants to move forward, and maybe need to, like less sleeping hours, like, sacrificing like, yeah, entertainment, because this is what you do. When you go for a startup, you spend your own, like entertainment rest. So if somebody is not, like, open to do that. And when you realize that you have, like, amazing chances to let actually succeed. And at least like small successes, you need to find a way to move forward and bring some buddy who can actually be a dad level for this next stage of the company.

Shawn Flynn 20:05

Interesting. And actually, both of you, Jason, can you talk about currently the project you're working on? And then Sergio, could you tell everyone a little bit what you're currently working on?

Jason Nyeh 20:14

Yes. Um, one of the projects that I'm working on is definitely a travel hospitality type of application that to help people to understand what are those type of resources within dear when they travel. So they can actually utilize those resources as if they were a local in the actually tailors within the restaurant, to the hospitality industry to a lot more events and kind of festivities so they know where to go within also in their own language.

Unknown 20:50

Interesting, Sergio, so cool.

Sergio Smirnoff 20:54

Well, I'm working its startup. And what we are doing is trying to move the networking process into the 21st century trying to connect people, but based on artificial intelligence, so you can start getting like connection based on real interest and backgrounds. And everything starts from we're changing the way people like shake hands and introduce themselves since the very moment when you exchange a business card, like something that's going on from the last like 400 years.

So we are changing this like human behavior. And it's going to take some time for sure. But we are moving this interaction from a paper business card, it printed one to a phone and mobile phone, like everybody has a phone. So from there, you are exchanging your contact info. And from there, we start building a network that you can, like, get, like real benefits of it.

Shawn Flynn 21:57

And why do this and not work in a corporate corporate huge, you know, a nice comfortable job nine to five why it's boring?

Jason Nyeh 22:09

Well, for me, it for me working within a corporation didn't work I could tell you up front is because my leadership and my management or directive skills were I wouldn't, were more cohesive within the team. So So what happened was that it countless times where the management would be kind of jealous and kind of upset because all the other employees liked my management leadership style better. So they were just just got really it hasn't. Okay. So. So that does, this was one of the main things because I was more entrepreneurial, definitely went to start my own startup or my own business and when to work together as a team. And, and to be that leadership and to present myself in a way where I am not just roll up my sleeves in get to get the work done in but not just telling people what to do. And so a lot of folks are a lot of my colleagues love that and where I would be, you know, replace because the other manager will be too jealous or something. Oh, so that's just my own experience. So,

Shawn Flynn 23:29

so far today we've talked about and add some things if I miss him, pivoted and the importance how it sometimes the team there might be one member that's good at one stage of the company, but not good. Another part that might need to replace a lot of the decisions even though it's a small team is done by voting or working together, agendas are very important for the meetings to make sure time is used wisely. When your company doesn't pivot, you might have issues with the investors and have to talk to them. But if things are explained to them, it might actually work out they might still back you and want to move forward.

We talked about a lot of things today. Is there anything that we missed?

Sergio Smirnoff 24:13

or What advice would you like to give you two years ago? Well, I would say that always you have to listen. But listen, in a in a proactive way. Sometimes you you feel like you are listening. And you are maybe just talking with somebody explain your idea as I just did. And you are actually more focused in what you're saying that actually actively listen, what do you have to say from it. And of course, you cannot change or pivot every time you hear something from somebody because it was like, You never like get on track. It's impossible. But you need to reel is like okay, if I had a that feedback from one to 1020 people, what's going on here, I need to real Okay, said this, okay, what's going on, if there's so many people saying to me something in a certain way, okay, that means something because I'm not building a product for myself. This is like an artist, I can, like, draw a picture that's, I'm an artist. And if you like it, or you don't, it's not my thing. I do my feelings. Today, I express myself and art but a product is something that you want the public or your customer to use it to buy it to engage with. So if you actually don't listen what you have, when they what they have to say about it. But again, it's like really listen and do something about it. And this is mostly Something about like leaning and pivot it's like learned from or maybe it's not just a customer's listen or dig into the history Okay, other companies in my space, what happened with them, why they change why they failed, why they were acquired, how much research Do you do into other companies, but I myself up for days, what I'm doing now a lot I tried to learn from the successes but also from the failures mostly from the failures and for example from some acquisitions is some companies in my space they were acquired by big companies I'm going to say

Shawn Flynn 26:33

some some people might say oh that was less a great success well probably be in million above money maybe yes but you need to learn from there so with that Jason key tell the audience one more time how they can reach you the best way to reach you and a little bit of your company one more time

Jason Nyeh 26:54

yes they can reach me at my email j and y e h at ease e di n e.com and again is within the travel hospitality industry

Sergio Smirnoff 27:07

surgery You can reach me at my email is Sergio most like a lot of surgeries floral at red lines, app.com. And what my company's doing right now is trying to change all the network interaction from people from the last two centuries to these one. All right, I'd like to thank everyone at home for viewing this episode of Silicon Valley successes. On our next episode, we're going to have two special guests, airman Caesar who will talk about diversity and inclusion in the workplace. And it's pretty fascinating, pretty fast and an episode we have coming for you. So once again, thank you. My name is Sean Flynn. And have a great day.

Show Announcer 27:52

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