Terry Hsiao: Jump In But Think; Have Vision But Be Nimble [Interview]

April 23, 2012

12:52 pm

Today, app developers need marketing more than ever, but they have less money to spend on it. That’s because many of the App Store’s over half a billion apps are free.

Serial entrepreneur Terry Hsiao saw this problem and created the App Growth Engine – tools to acquire more users for iOS games by capturing phone numbers, enabling SMS invitations, and tracking analytics.

Hsiao’s company, Hook Mobile, has funding from IDG-Accel, Amplifier Ventures, ACTA Capital, and 500 Startups. Its previous products, a variety of cloud services for mobile (e.g., a tool to check whether certain phone numbers can receive text messages), boasted customers such as CBS, Entertainment Tonight, and Paramount Pictures.

Below, Hsiao explains his own challenges, ranging from tricky licensing to moderating his expectations.

Tech Cocktail: What have you learned from your previous startups that you’re applying to Hook Mobile?

Hook Mobile

Terry Hsiao of Hook Mobile

Terry Hsiao: For new entrepreneurs, #1 is to jump in, but take the time to think things through. Don’t reach conclusions too fast. Go through it with many people, and do not be afraid to share your ideas – because at the end of the day, it’s not going to be the idea that makes the difference. Bulletproof, fireproof your concept and put the time into designing user experiences and write it down – don’t keep it in your head, write everything down. And the rest of it is just finding the right team to be able to execute on what you want to do, and don’t easily give up.

For example, one business idea that we were working out at Hook Mobile was effectively delivering on-demand rich media [e.g., sending messages with video clips]…. And the biggest challenge that we ran into is actually digital rights on video, because … it turns out that all the rights management is kind of convoluted. I’ll give you one example: if you want to show a movie clip of Tom Cruise in a movie with some background music playing – granted this is a few years ago – at the time you would have to get approval for Tom Cruise, you have to get approval on the movie itself, and you have to clear rights with the background music.

Tech Cocktail: What did you do?

Hsiao: Well, we ended up pivoting away from that. So sometimes you have to make the decision to say, ‘Look, we just don’t have the time to wait for all these lawyers and others to make progress,’ and you gotta go find something else. So that’s what I’m talking about – in terms of having a vision, going after it – you have to be nimble and be able to change as you go and learn new things along the way. Don’t get stuck on something, and it doesn’t help to bang your head on the wall.

Tech Cocktail: What is most challenging?

Hsiao: The most challenging piece is [that] my first company [InphoMatch] was able to achieve growth fairly quickly, and market adoption and a little bit of success. Coming in building this company, with the number of challenges that we had to go through, what’s challenging for me is not letting your previous experience mess up your expectations. Every company, every project has a life of its own, so just go into it with the right attitude and keep going at it.

Tech Cocktail: What do you enjoy the most?

Hsiao: What I enjoy about being an entrepreneur is we’re always on the leading edge, so it’s not boring. Yeah, we have our stress, but at least we’re not frustrated by the bureaucracy and perhaps the government policies. Our external challenges are established for us, and we just have to go navigate and figure it out. And we have to know what we cannot change and what we could change. So every day is a different day, and you don’t get bored, and you meet the most incredible people.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.

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