We at Salesforce recently caught up with Bettina Hein, Founder and CEO of Pixability, a video ad buying and marketing platform. A serial entrepreneur, Boston-based Hein has built successful technology companies in the United States and in Europe. Hein will be sharing her entrepreneurial expertise at Dreamforce in two sessions on Wednesday, November 8, 2017: Customer Growth Strategies for SMB Success in 2018 and Keys to Building and Sustaining Communities for Long-Term Growth.
Entrepreneurship runs in your family. Can you tell me a little about that?
No one in my family has ever really held a 9-to-5 job. My parents are both professionals who ran their own businesses, and all four of my grandparents were entrepreneurs in their own right. They weren’t big-time moguls, but small business owners. I grew up never having a concept of having a job where you were an employee.
But you tried to go the more conventional route at one time, didn’t you?
Even though I was surrounded by entrepreneurs, I started out conventionally, going from high school to university in Switzerland. I studied finance and accounting, thinking I would go to investment banking or consulting. To get some real-world experience, I did a summer internship with a large consulting firm, but it was horrible! That gave me the drive to do something I loved instead of simply doing what my classmates were doing.
How did you get your start in entrepreneurship?
Before I started my first company, I founded a program at my university called Start Global. We wanted to create a forum for university students to learn how to found companies. Of course, there’s a lot you don’t learn at the college level, like how to write a business plan or how to get funding. No one teaches you how to figure out product design or market fit. Start Global addressed that, and I’m proud to say the organization is still thriving 20 years later.
When I was ready to start my first business, I got a lot of encouragement and support from the people around me — my classmates, my boyfriend (now husband!), and my family. My grandmother gave me great advice, and my grandfather was my first investor. He’d given me some money I was supposed to squirrel away for a rainy day. I asked him if I could use the money to co-found a text-to-speech software company — he said yes, and that was that.
What was the advice you got from your grandmother?
My grandmother owned a grocery store that was attached to her house, stocked with fresh vegetables, meat, canned goods, those sort of things. It had been her childhood dream to have a little store. Her advice was this: the first 3-4 years are really, really hard, but after that it gets easier. You have to stick with it.
I was just out of college. While I was very respectful to her, I thought, “I’m founding an investor-financed software company. This has nothing in common with a corner grocery. Things move much more quickly these days.” Well, as it turns out, they aren’t that different. This was around the time the tech bubble burst, and things got got really challenging for my company. For years I would look at the corner stores while I was on my way to work and think, “All these people know how to weather storms and make money. Why can’t I do it?” My grandmother didn’t live long enough to see my $125 million exit, but she did live long enough for me to tell her she was right.
What’s the most important quality in an entrepreneur?
I work with a lot of entrepreneurs in Boston and there are three qualities that I think all entrepreneurs need to have.
First, naiveté. If most entrepreneurs knew what they were getting into, they’d never start. Successful entrepreneurs often have a different take on a market or a product and are better off not knowing what has failed before.
Second, chutzpah (Yiddish for audacity). You need to have the courage and confidence to put yourself out there and tell your family, friends, investors, potential customers and employees, “Trust me, follow me, I can do this, it’s the right way.” If you’re too meek to stand up and share your vision, you’re not going to make it.
The third quality is perseverance. This goes along with what I learned from my grandmother. Starting a business will get hard. Really hard. But you can’t give up. The naiveté will get you in trouble. You don’t know how hard it’s going to be — but you have chutzpah, so you’ve put yourself out there. Now you have to see it through. If you’re stubborn and passionate like me, you don’t want to give up when things get tough.
How can a person develop the skills he or she needs to be a successful entrepreneur?
Anyone can do it. It’s all about summoning the willpower to do these things. Some people are inherently risk-averse and don’t want to put themselves out there. But if those people are passionate and convinced of something, they can overcome it. If you really believe you can create something special and unique, and you feel you’ve been put on this earth to do it, you can muster up the courage.