Adam is a cofounder of several successful startups, including Siri (which sold to Apple, where he led the Siri assistant project), Change.org (the world’s largest petition platform), Viv Labs (sold to Samsung, where he led product engineering and developer relations for Samsung’s voice assistant), and Sentient (massively distributed machine learning).
In an interview with Vattan, Adam does not go into the entire story of Siri, but rather talks about his views on launching an idea and how timing plays a significant role in that process.
Adam says “I am not a visionary, probably a perfect predictor”.
What is your story as a founder?
When we started Siri, our website was called sellfastcompany.com. The idea was simple - less is more. We wanted to keep our presence to a bare minimum - no presence on LinkedIn, no logo!
Similarly with Viv Labs, we had no public face for about a year and a half. I like to control the message because every startup has risks involved. I plan to tell the world once we succeed in solving the problem we target!
When you say that every startup has risks involved, is there anything you would like to advise an early-stage founder about their focal points?
Timing is important! There are great ideas which could be too early or too late! I have a system called Trends & Triggers in which I predict where I think the world is going. This helps me set my beliefs, the trends. I am not sure when they would actually happen, but with the power of my opinions, I can interpret the world and observe what is happening around me.
There are often moments that arrive when you realize that what you predicted is coming to a reality. You are aware of where the world is going.
These confirming events are when you can exactly know when to start your company. The simple rule is to make a prediction, research about it, and wait for the confirming event.
With Siri, I made a prediction in 2004, that there will be a new kind of interface that would emerge to access all the available web content and services. When the iPhone was developed, my wait was over! Pinch and Zoom were all I was waiting for - which was a completely new way to access the content.
Surprisingly, at that instance, not many people believed that the iPhone would succeed. I was quite sure that it would succeed and speculated that in 2 years we will witness enormous competition with the iPhone. I sat and thought to myself, what is possibly the problem with the iPhone. Turns out that due to its small screen size, it would be difficult for some people to type. That’s how Siri’s idea popped into my head!
When exactly did you think of “Siri”?
I thought of it in 1993 and the first iPhone was launched in 2007. For me, it was just a project. If I had launched it as a company, I would have definitely failed. But I believe I got the timing exactly right as I completely expected something like an iPhone to enter the market sooner or later. After it was launched, I could confidently say that it would be a big success. It was like someone showed you the lottery ticket for tomorrow! That’s when I decided to start a company. The timing was about right, not too late, not too early. I am not a visionary, probably a perfect predictor.
How do you come up with these predictions?
It’s as simple as whatever interests me. Essentially, I look around and I am curious. For example, I look at my son and he is into E-sport. I would think, who would want to watch someone play a video game? I might not be very captivated by that thought but my son would disagree and say that E-sport is bigger than most of the games today. That would motivate me to learn more about that and decide whether it will replace sports or will it remain niche. I would then have a decision or rather, an opinion. I basically like to work with concepts that have a little bit of traction but aren’t big yet.
So, you like building innovative companies?
I actually don’t build companies, I just take up whatever interests me as a project and work hard on it. I have many projects that I have built for fun, and are sitting on the shelf, ready to be launched. Whenever I see a trigger moment, that’s when they will be launched.
How do you validate your ideas?
I believe people, or instead customers, never know what they want. So it's our job, the innovators, to be curious, have the vision, be interested, and explore. Whenever you get an idea and see that the world could be interested in it, now or later, you can then be successful.
How long should you wait for the market to respond?
How was “Siri” Acquired?
I launched a free app, and I received a message from Steve Jobs saying, "Hey, want to come over to my house tomorrow?". So we go over there, we talk for 3 hours about technology and the future. He then proposed to buy the company. We said, "Thank you, Steve, we are flattered. But we are not interested! Goodbye!", and we left. He came back to us after a month and convinced us. He wanted to change the world, and he thought he could do it by acquiring Siri and incorporating it into Apple. We never tried to be acquired, and an entrepreneur should never have that as a target.
What is the investor story of Viv Labs?
We started the company in 2007. two years later, in 2009, we were ready for the B round and launched our product. Unfortunately, the financial crash happened, and we could not raise any money. Our investors said: "We'll give you the money, but it will be a 20 Million Valuation". I thought we were worth more. Three months later, we got an offer for more than ten times the initial offer! We wanted to sell the company, so we turned to the investors' board for their approval; they were unanimously against the sale. They said: "You are worth more!". The same investors who said we were worth 20 million. Now, we were 10X!
Founders start thinking about Fundraising from Day 1. Do you think that is required? What are your thoughts?
Funding is essential, and I am not a fan of friends, family and self-funding. However, raising money from an unbiased investor is a critical hurdle every entrepreneur must cross. If you cannot convince someone who does not know you to invest money in your idea, you are not ready. Maybe your pitch isn't good enough.
Anything to sum up and say to fellow entrepreneurs?
I say entrepreneurship is about four things - you need the right idea at the right time, the right co-founding team, you need to raise money, and you need to execute very efficiently.