Episode 9 – Thomas Mirmotahari on getting business education through start-ups

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Thomas is a young entrepreneur who is building a business that started as a desire to solve his personal problem as an employee in the post-pandemic world. Thomas’ journey before starting up, consists of stacking up the relevant skills, beliefs and habits to be a successful entrepreneur. This includes making decisions for choosing the right undergrad course, then picking up the marketing, sales and technology skills to build a tech-led business. He sees himself as a business/product guy who knows how to write software applications end-to-end. To date, Thomas has done the engineering, sales, marketing, and support for his business – PerkUp.

PerkUp drives employee engagement by allowing companies to issue pre-loaded Visa cards that the team can freely spend on entertainment, education, fitness, childcare, or office equipment.

Our conversation focused on understanding how Thomas made some critical decisions, what he could have done better in early career and how he built the relevant skills and habits. His journey and decision making is relevant for early stage entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, wannabe entrepreneurs and students who are about to make critical career decisions.

Thomas Mirmotahari on getting business education through start-ups

Thomas is a young entrepreneur who is building a business that started as a desire to solve his personal problem as an employee in the post-pandemic world. Thomas’ journey before starting up, consists of stacking up the relevant skills, beliefs and habits to be a successful entrepreneur. This includes making decisions for choosing the right undergrad course, then picking up the marketing, sales and technology skills to build a tech-led business. He sees himself as a business/product guy who knows how to write software applications end-to-end. To date, Thomas has done the engineering, sales, marketing, and support for his business – PerkUp.

PerkUp drives employee engagement by allowing companies to issue pre-loaded Visa cards that the team can freely spend on entertainment, education, fitness, childcare, or office equipment.

Our conversation focused on understanding how Thomas made some critical decisions, what he could have done better in early career and how he built the relevant skills and habits. His journey and decision making is relevant for early stage entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, wannabe entrepreneurs and students who are about to make critical career decisions.

Some highlights from this conversation:

  • “Ooch” to make decisions: Dan and Chip Heath, share about constructing small experiments to test one’s hypothesis. Called Ooch, the approach brings real-world experience in decision making. Thomas made some early decisions using this approach. His father, CTO in a large company, advised him to learn computer sciences. Thomas had his mind set on business and picked up a degree in finance. When he didn’t like the culture at a private equity firm, he started an e-commerce business in men’s jewelry on the side. That – running a business, helped him decide business over finance.

  • Learning to learn: Being open to Not knowing, but willing to learn as a mindset is a strong asset for growth. Thomas figured that there is a gap in his technology skills while he was working on marketing. Not only that, working with engineers, he discovered that he loved coding. He didn’t know what an API is but asked the CEO for a role to sell APIs – to learn by doing! Within 1 year, he went from not knowing about and selling APIs, to growing the company and being acquired by Eventbrite. It takes courage, and intelligence, to take bets on unknown areas to accelerate learning by doing.

  • Solving personal pain: One of the best pieces of advice in finding an idea to start a business is to solve personal pain. Covid-19 made Thomas realise a personal pain in work-life integration. He was surprised that his employer did not have the flexibility to provide benefits that matter to him more than those that were being provided. Starting with that, and then doing ‘customer discovery and validation’ by speaking to potential customers led him to a ‘real’ customer problem that required someone to solve, and conception of Perkup – the startup he founded in 2020. Thomas combined his personal insights with something few early stage entrepreneurs do – get out of the room and speak to potential buyers.

  • Beliefs on success: Thomas wears different hats and hence has different beliefs for success in each role that he plays. As a Product Head, his belief is in shipping every single day. As an outsider in HR, his belief is to be extremely curious and aware of ‘unknown unknowns’. That helps him to do each conversation to learn, compared to using each conversation to sell. Both get combined with never breaking the chain on shipping and doing daily conversations – at least one person every single day.

  • Habits and rituals: To build a habit or routine, Thomas sets daily goals for himself, weekly goals for the team and monthly goals that are declared publicly (with angel investors, advisors, family members, customers). The third one creates accountability partners. Setting the right goals is challenging – for example finding the right people to speak to, and Thomas pivots as required. One platform that helps Thomas these days to network is Lunchclub. Another resource that Thomas found useful is Y-Combinator’s Startup School where Thomas publicly declares his goal on a 4-weekly basis

  • Social Capital: Thomas finds himself privileged to have his father as the big influencer who understands both business and technology, who he goes to for advice. Beyond that he has created mentors for product, engineering, fund-raising and any vertical that is relevant to the business. He found each influencer through referral, work or cold-outreach, and then keeps a regular (often weekly) conversation with each of them to update progress and get advice. His favorite tip for networking is to personalise each interaction, whether it is an outreach or update.

Listen to the podcast to learn about the advice Thomas would give to a 5-years younger self, to become more effective in a professional career later as well as his favorite resource for wanna-preneurs.

Links for reference

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