Jerry Luk '04 is co-founder and COO of Loop, a startup dedicated to recreating the group messaging experience for consumers. He shares his thoughts on being a company founder, and how Berkeley helped shape his entrepreneurial journey.
Q. What have you carried from your Berkeley experience to your work in innovation/entrepreneurship?
A. During my time at Berkeley, I met some of the brightest people I know. The environment at Berkeley is extremely competitive. Students work smart and hard. In order to succeed at Cal, speed is everything.
Disruptive innovations are not born through a single idea but are a result of hundreds of ideas. For every successful product I have created, 10 were failures. There are many innovators in this world who have amazing ideas. The key to success is executing those ideas effectively and faster than your competitors.
Q. What advice would you offer students just beginning their careers in the startup and entrepreneurship world, either as founders or as early team members?
A. Take risks. Do things that most people won’t do. Believe in things that most people don’t believe in. When the iPhone first launched, no one believed that mobile apps were the future. [At my job at LinkedIn], I went ahead and created LinkedIn mobile (without permission) and the rest is history.
Challenge conventions. I asked Reid Hoffman if I should get an MBA if I wanted to be an entrepreneur and he answered that the best way to learn about startups is by doing it. Conventions and theories tell you what not to do, and that limits you. When you are young, you have better insight into what the future looks like. Follow your insight and create the future.
Prioritize learning. Over the years, people have asked me how I picked [a career at] LinkedIn, back in 2004 when it was at such an early stage. The truth is I didn’t know LinkedIn would be successful. I joined because I knew the team was small and I would have the opportunity to do many things and would learn a lot. Knowing this now, if given another opportunity to learn as much as I did, I would totally do it for free.
Q. As a serial entrepreneur, what have you learned from previous startups that inform which ideas you choose to pursue as opportunities arise?
A. Think big. Doing a $1B idea is not 10 times more effort than a $100M idea. For example, my current startup LOOP is a social app aiming to disrupt Facebook. We picked this idea because we realized everyone has at least 3 social apps on their phones and they are on those apps all the time. If we are successful, we will impact millions or even billions of people every day.
On the other hand, the exact idea is not as important as the people and culture. Ideas can change, markets can change, but people are what make the company successful. One lesson I learned is to make hiring a priority. When you meet a person with the right mindset, hire him or her. If you don’t have an open position, make one.
Q. What’s the hardest thing about as an entrepreneur? What keeps you up at night?
A. Ensuring that the company is working on the right thing. Most people focus on the execution — resources, designs, product specs, user resources, marketing, etc. They get deep into it and forget to validate whether they are moving in the right direction; thus it can become “the perfect execution to failure.” Working on the right thing is like sailing with a tail wind — chaos happens, but things will take care of themselves.
Q. Is it better to join a startup, or to start your own company? How do you evaluate your employment opportunities?
A. [There are] three stages of a startup: Early stage, mid stage, and late stage. Each of the stages is very different. In an early stage startup, things are most exciting: you’re trying to get from 0 to 0.1. Everyone operates like a founder. In the mid stage, things are more stable and the company is trying to get from 0.1 to 1. During the late stage, the product market fit is very clear, the business model has been validated, and it’s all about scaling the company. Personally, I enjoy the early stage. I joined LinkedIn when they had around 30 people and left when they had around 1,200. For people who, like me, enjoy thinking about new ideas and challenging the status quo, an early-stage startup is the way to go.
Deciding whether to join an existing startup or start your own company depends on personal preference; both are very rewarding. The best way to find out what is best for you is by joining a startup. Whether you decide you want to do your own startup or not, you will learn a lot. Even if you’re still working towards your degree, there are many ways to get involved. In addition to internships, many startups (including LOOP) also have campus ambassador programs to let you be part of the startup journey while you are in school.
My approach to evaluating employment opportunities is to focus on the people – the founders and team. [Are they aware of] what they know and what they don’t know? Are they driven, hard-working, and not afraid of failures? How good are they about learning and moving fast? Business plans don’t matter to me. If they have good people, they will figure things out. Prior startup experience (especially at failed ones) is a plus. In my current company, quite a few of us started companies before, and we learned from each other’s experiences.
Q. Has Berkeley been helpful to you in your entrepreneurial endeavors? If so, what have you valued most about your interactions with Cal or the resources it provides?
A. Definitely. Since LOOP is a social platform targeting college students, Berkeley has connected us with people helping us push our product. UC Berkeley is our first group of student users.
Q. Lastly: You've chosen to make the Berkeley Founders' Pledge. What inspired you to do that?
A. UC Berkeley plays an important role in the success of Silicon Valley. I want to contribute to the continued success of UCB’s students by continuing to support and cultivate the next generation of Cal entrepreneurs.
Interested in joining Jerry in his commitment to Cal? Make the Berkeley Founders Pledge, like Jerry did, and have an impact from Day One of your latest venture.