Learn From Leaders with Oscar Ramos

Oscar Ramos, Partner & Managing Director of Chinaccelerator, is a “full-stack innovator” with expertise ranging from product development to corporate strategy. He has experience as an entrepreneur, a management consultant, and early-stage investor.

A Telecom MEng and Biomedical PhD dropout, Oscar began his career 15 years ago as an R&D engineer in Ericsson’s Research Center, and then later in a similar post at Telefonica. After discovering the concept of Business Model Innovation he transitioned to the world of medtech startups. This propelled his move to China in early 2008, and he has since then been involved in various dimensions of innovation: product launches, go-to market strategies, venture capital financing, and M&As.

Oscar’s recommendations for you

Lean B2B: Build Products Businesses Want (Customer Development & Lean Startup in B2B) | Étienne Garbugli

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This year we completed a shift with more focus on B2B companies, but still, the core of our activities is around challenging all the assumptions behind any business models, rapid experimentation to validate and discover what works.

Entrepreneurs tend to think that is a consumer-facing product type of operation. In SOSV, we have already proved that Lean Startup can be applied to areas that were never applied, like hardware via our HAX program or biotech with our IndieBio and RebelBio Programs.

In the book, the author covers the cycle of the launch of a B2B product from a top-down approach but goes in detail to very specific tactics that can be used for experimentation. The book starts with describing some of the concerns from B2B entrepreneurs and explains why those concerns are actually what creates an opportunity for startups in the space.  

One key aspect that I like is that the core part of the book starts with “People”, not only customers but also the team that make things happen. An example tool is an assessment checklist on the team/startup fit that can help founders define first hires they might need to bring in or rethink their business ideas. The book follows the Lean startup three pillars of Customer-Problem-Solution adapted for the specific multi-stakeholder nature of an enterprise environment.

I particularly like the wrapping up section before the conclusions on speed, including the reasons why B2B startups develop slow (covering both internal and external factors) and suggestions on how to address those challenges.

I have not seen too many books that compile in a coherent topic. AndI mostly read blogs that cover in details some of the key areas but sometimes they use different definitions or terms and make things confusing.

This book is a great resource for any B2B entrepreneurs, no matter if you are familiar with the lean startup framework or not.

Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman–Including 10 More Years of Business Unusual | Yvon Chouinard

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Passion and real interest are amazing catalysts for innovation and entrepreneurship. When startups scale, just more of 10 employees, their original vision and values of the company become difficult to maintain. The book describes the personal experience of the founder of Patagonia to create one of the most successful, innovative and profitable businesses in their industry. He had no previous business experience and went through lots of struggles and mistakes, he shares his individual growth as well as the building of one of the most admired company cultures.

Podcast: The Big Pivot w/ Slack’s Stewart Butterfield – Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman

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Pivots are extremely important moments for entrepreneurs, potentially as beneficial as risky. Some have been critical for success but deciding why, when and to what is the key to secure a positive outcome. 

In this podcast, the founder of Flickr and Slack shares his personal experience through two very successful pivots. How he pivoted from gaming companies twice turning them into very different yet successful businesses. Besides insights about the data and real customer demand behind the pivot, he also talks about how to get the support from strategic stakeholders from investors to employees.

Five Questions with Oscar

Q1: One habit that helps you keep focused and productive

My kids are both the number one source of distraction and focus. I love what I do, I probably have one of the best jobs in the world. Although I enjoy every moment of it, I also want to spend time with my family. Making sure that I make space for them in my busy schedule keeps me quite focused on doing what I have to do as effectively as possible and sometimes thisit forces me to decide and prioritize.

Q2: One piece of advice for entrepreneurs in your industry

Running too fast in the wrong direction will just bring you farther from your destinations. Most founders are aware that startups need to be fast, but the majority does not understand that the concept of speed is relative to the stage of the company. In fact, it is common that founders run very fast over the initial stages when the foundation of the business is defined. Take your time to validate the fundamentals of your company. Speed at this stage means “fail fast” No analysis paralysis but active experimentation! Most likely you are wrong about  some assumptions. Find out as soon as possible so you can concentrate your efforts on the most important things. 

Q3: One of the most important lessons you learnt from your career

Working as a team is the only way to achieve  amazing projects, but as a leader, you need to lead the team rather than  have them follow you. For me, a great example is that the need to celebrate small wins first, then figure out how to improve. I am a perfectionist and what motivates me is to identify ways to make things better . A half-empty  glass drives positive energy as we have the chance to fill in another half! That is probably not a very common way of thinking, but I have seen it in other founders. Entrepreneurs embark on a very tough journey thinking they can succeed while others cannot based on their ability. Make sure you provide your team with the feeling of progress and achievements frequently.

Q4: Something you’ve changed your mind about in your career

I am a technologist. I love technology and believe it’s a massive engine of positive change.  But my perception changed when I was first exposed to innovation in a consortium with a very large R&D project. I was part of the engineers-only team working on the quite advanced Radio Frequency. The project was quite technical, but we were also assigned two minor initiatives on Customer-Centric  Design and Business Model. I volunteered to learn something new. Both assignments opened my eyes to two facts. First, if users do not need something, it does not matter (at least short term) how advanced the technology is. Second, if you can not find a sustainable business model, it is quite unlikely that the product will stay available for a long time. That does not mean a product or technology needs to be discarded but that early clarification on those aspects can define the development agenda and increase chances of success.

Q5: One trait that you would like to see in people you work with

Startup founders need to be coachable and interested in making things right, instead of being right. Lots of founders spend their energy and resources to prove  they are right, even if data is saying the opposite and they have to use exceptions. At the end of the day, the market and customers are very impartial judges. At the same time, founders also need to be able to discard advice that is not valuable. Ideally, do it in a way that they won’t close any line of communication. People  who are honest and direct with you are very valuable.

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