Don Oparah
Don Oparah

Venture Aviator CEO looks to help the 99 percent of SMEs

Don Oparah recalled a panel discussion he attended several years ago where the idea for Venture Aviator was born.

A representative from a Silicon Valley venture capital firm said they look at an average of 3,000 deals each year.

And they fund five. Not 500. Five.

“I asked myself, ‘What happens to the other 2,995?'” Mr. Oparah recalled.

“I was sure there were some good businesses among those 2,995.”

Don Oparah
Don Oparah

Mr. Oparah, Venture Aviator‘s CEO, earned his Ph.D. in Computer Science from Cambridge and MBA at UCLA.

While at business school he met Venture Aviator Co-Founder Roy Malkin, who has worked in leadership positions at Liberty Media, Credit Suisse, and Walt Disney’s new technology team. They kept in touch and in late 2012, when money started flowing back into the early stage venture world, they saw an opportunity to apply their experience with innovative and high growth tech firms in a company which helps those firms maximize their potential.

Venture Aviator helps companies in many different ways, Mr. Oparah explained. They help companies focus on sales and marketing by addressing their technology needs through a global network of developers, designers, and project managers.

They also advise companies on marketing, business development, customer acquisition, strategic partnerships and fundraising. Because early stage companies have variable access to capital, Venture Aviator offers flexible compensation models including equity for IT, Mr. Oparah said.

An important part of Mr. Oparah’s job is help companies thrive in a rapidly changing marketplace. One area some struggle with is when to enter the market. Some entrepreneurs want to get everything just right before entry, but by then it may be too late.

“Put it in the user’s hands, let them play with it. Don’t wait.” – Don Oparah

There are many reasons why time to market has been shrinking, Mr. Oparah explained.

“The barriers to entry, especially in technology, are lower. You do not need as much money to launch a mobile app, for example.”

The boom and bust cycles over the last 15 years burned many investors, and they have long memories, Mr. Oparah said. Instead of offering millions which enable companies to iterate in the lab, they provide lower amounts which means those iterations occur more often after public release.

logo-2It is also important to quickly get out in front of your user base, Mr. Oparah added. People are used to trying new technology, giving feedback and seeing new iterations.

“Put it in the user’s hands, let them play with it. Don’t wait.”

Consumers are used to their mobile and smartphones, and when something does not intuitively work, they will let you know.

Venture Aviator also helps companies maximize their competitive advantage, the meaning of which varies with each one, Mr. Oparah said.

In the tech sector, that meaning is undergoing stark change. Pure intellectual property is becoming less relevant as development costs have declined open infrastructure becomes more  popular. Best to concentrate on differentiators like customer service, ease of use and strategic partnerships which create value and reduce time to market.

Another area tech entrepreneurs must prepare for is the challenge of keeping staff, especially if they are located in Silicon Valley or another hot spot where they can easily move next door.

Do not make the mistake of thinking money equals happiness and loyalty. It is more than that Mr. Oparah advises.

“It is not just money. There is also the sense of ownership, that they have a say in what is being done.”

Look for people who can thrive in the environment of a fast-growing tech startup, not everyone can, Mr. Oparah said. Then listen to what they have to say.

Carefully consider the makeup of your core team, Mr. Oparah added. Look at how the different positions need to interact and how personalities mix.

Venture Aviator helps companies by outsourcing some IT activity to skilled teams in areas like Eastern Europe. That allows the startup executive team to concentrate on a few key areas. The flexibility keeps costs down and makes it easier to respond to demand fluctuations.

“That allows the software team to improve the core product and the sales guys to sell,” Mr. Oparah said.

Venture Aviator can partner with companies at different growth stages, Mr. Oparah said. With some they come in at the onset and help the founders define the core concept and then build it out. Other times their work concentrates on building out a vision into a tech product.

“We provide them with road maps to watch out for,” Mr. Oparah said. “We provide them with a realistic understanding of what it takes to build a product.”

Sometimes companies have to learn to delay their focus on revenue generation, Mr. Oparah explained. Build a good product, then validate it through user acquisition. Then you can focus on monetization.

A final challenge Mr. Oparah cited was traction.

“Entrepreneurs build, launch and go back to investors for the next round, only to hear they should come back when they have more traction.”

“Investors want them to demonstrate growth so we employ a more coordinated approach to convince investors it is growing but for the right reasons.”

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