Rahul Sood, General Manager of Microsoft Accelerator, is coming to Istanbul for the biggest networking event in the region, Startup Istanbul. Before his arrival, we’ve talked about his entrepreneurship career, Voodoo PC, Microsoft Accelerator Program and new startups in the our region. First of all he is very excited about meeting new startups at Startup Istanbul and he gave very open and kindly answers to my questions.
We’ve talked about the new generation startups and entrepreneurs, the opportunities and the challenges. Rahul also gave some tips about their interests and focus areas for Microsoft Accelerator program.
Rahul also shared his thoughts about Microsoft’s recent acquisition, Mojang, the makers of Minecraft.
Mr. Sood, how did you start your entrepreneurship career, Yes, we know Voodoo PC but why do you want to be an entrepreneur and launched a luxury computer brand?
R.S: It’s a good question. When I was 11 or 12 years old, really getting involved in computers and have a tendency to want to pull them apart and put them back again. All kind of electronics, I mean. When I was 17, I spent the last half of my high school building a computer company. I really want to do it, because I love computers. I felt that there is a needed market for something better . I felt like I could solve a need in highly commoditized market building a premium product and that’s how it started. It started with one person and then I hired my best friend.
We started to build a technology around Voodoo PCs, we’re building a technology which makes the computers silent. We’re putting very high end equipments on it which was never seen before. Because high performance computers are very loud at that moment and it was annoying. We start to built IP and technology around fanless PCs and really quite PCs. That’s where we started to break out. We built liquid cooling systems for mass productions. That’s where the companies like HP interested to came out
Were you using windows in Voodoo PCs?
R.S: (laughes) Yes, we’re using windows, windows is still by far the biggest gaming platform. It’s funny that people do not realize it. They’ve also the largest distribution engine in game business.
What was the most difficult challenge when you launched Voodoo PC?
R.S: When I first started, there is no such a thing accelerator or incubators, even try to get funding? forget about it. I think the most difficult challenge is how you get discovered as an entrepreneur! Voodoo started in a city that was very famous with oiling gas, but not technology. Getting discovered was the hardest part for us. What we found was we need a build a brand, we wanted to build a brand that have soul and culture and community. By doing that helped us to break out and to get discovered and picked up in U.S and globally.
What are the challenges that the startup ecosystem face from your side?
R.S: Today, there are both more opportunities and challenges. The challenges should be looked at opportunities. The platforms are massive, there are opportunities to develop a cross platform, cloud computing has made a possible to develop cross platforms. You know, there has been a billion dollar company created every month in somewhere around the world.
The biggest challenge for startups is basically, they have to understand the problem they’re solving and how that problem is really big. If they are capable of understanding the problem and do some really good customer development, they can scale a business very quickly. I think the challenge is getting out of the mentality that you have to be first, or you have to be the only one and you have to copy that someone has done. The challenge is how you innovate, so the way I encourage startups is to think differently about something and create something uniquely and looking at local problems to understand.
We’ve built a program in Microsoft Ventures that helps entrepreneurs to built their businesses. We help them from customer development to pitching, design, engineering..etc. The most important thing is we help them to get connected with customers. Because the number one challenge that the startups have is Customer Acquisition. We are one of the largest enterprise companies in the world and the largest software company in the world. Every single company is now a software company, so Microsoft has the ability to plug into those companies to help them get access the startups in a meaningful way.
What’s the mind set that you’re looking at in an entrepreneur for Microsoft accelerator program, What kind of teams are you looking for?
R.S: It’s a really great question. We’re operating accelerators in seven countries around the world currently. We have them in China, India, Israel, England, Germany, France and Seattle, U.S. We have a four months programs for startups. It is the modification of lean startup program, we do everything from customer development, branding and pitching. We bring top mentors and entrepreneurs from the ecosystem, and also top VCs and help them to get funding.
We have a program that we have to work very close with startups and really help them to build. So when we pick teams we’re looking whether they are balanced or not. First think we look for is, the team is a balanced team, are they diverse, not only in thinking but they’re diverse in backround. We love when we have women and men teams together, we love that! It is very hard to built a company when you’re just working with male engineers. You just cannot do that. We look for diverse teams, the team that have designers, engineers and business people. We look for this three basic disciplines. Then we look at the size of the problem that they solve, how the problem big is!
If they can demonstrate how big enough the problem is and how they solve it, the they can be likely a good candidate for accelerator. We love that sort of criterias.
What are your focus areas in Microsoft Ventures now?
R.S: It depends on where you go, In Seattle for example we just set up a home automation accelerator just four months and see how it works. What we did, we brought the one of largest insurance company in U.S. They partnered with us, they have tens of millions of customers. They want to make the home safer. Basically they want to warn you before your house burns down. So, the beauty of this relationship is, the company is called American Family, we have startups that have access the American Family insurance customers, so the customer development process is better.
In Israel we have two accelerators going on, one in health care, the other is in cyber security area. In Paris, Berlin and London it is basically general stuff, we look at gaming, cloud, SaaS..etc.
We’ve partnered about 200+ accelerators around the world. First of all, we have BizSpark program, we sign up startups for free tools and access to our cloud. The second thing is, we have Microsoft Innovation Centers all around the world including the places like North Africa, India. We have them in the Middle East. and also in Eastern Europe. In terms of accelerators we partner with, we have 25 key partnerships around the world. We have one in Egypt, we have in Dubai.
How does the startup ecosystem look in developing countries like Turkey for example?
R.S: If we look at developing ecosystems, the biggest challenge we find is that there isn’t enough diversity. For example in India, most of the people were man in the engineering space. They are mostly engineers and they’are mostly male and there is no encouragement for women entrepreneurs at all. So what we did is, we made an effort to start spending time in encouraging woman entrepreneurs to come out. We created woman entrepreneur circles and we took them and we balanced them together with men and the magic started to happen. It’s pretty amazing, because we started to have more designers.
It is funny because in India, they have got one of the biggest art and entertainment industries in the world and there is no art happening inside of the tech space. But now we started to see more emphasize on design and more emphasize on the arts. And more women are coming out to support what we do.
In the Middle East I think the talent is amazing. For example I hired people from Egypt to do work for us, the technical talent is really good. The challenge they have is getting discovered. How do they break out just being a consultant? We like to find really top entrepreneurs and help them get put into an accelerator somewhere. We give them resources, we give them free software and tools to get started.
Do you know any startups in Turkey?
R.S: This is why I coming to Turkey. Turkey is becoming a central destination across the region. I am actually coming there to get the education, I haven’t spent enough time to get in all. Turkey will probably be the place to built very strong ecosystem. I want to get educated about the region and meet a lot of people.
Any plan to start an accelerator program in Turkey?
R.S: I cannot give you that answer but I can say that we do take it very seriously. Our team in Turkey is very excited to have my team out there. So we can scope the area what is going on, meet some entrepreneurs. I’ll tell you that in terms of the region it is probably one of the better places to built an accelerator for going out into that area.
Microsoft has recently announced that they acquired Mojang, the creator of Minecraft game. Do you want to say something about that?
I think it’s amazing, it’s a great acquisition. The cool thing about that company, minecraft is a cross game platform for every single device and it’s cloud based. It’s basically the modern day Lego. I am not exactly sure what the strategic decisions are, but I am very excited about that. Microsoft takes gaming very seriously, we love PC gaming, love gaming in general. Minecraft turned into a movement from a game. And I think they gonna treat this company with best of intentions and the highest level respect.
*If you want to listen and get a chance to meet with Rahul Sood, you can register for the event on this link.