Eight lessons for Miami’s entrepreneurs and investors

Marco Giberti, right, a Latin American angel investor and entrepreneur, with serial entrepreneur Ola Ahlvarsson. Photo by Jenna Buehler.

The growth in Miami’s startup ecosystem over the last five years compelled Ola Ahlvarsson, a Sweden-based investor and serial entrepreneur, to immerse himself in the creative energy of South Florida, where he already had a second home.

Wednesday night, he was the featured speaker at the Brainfood Mentor Talk Series hosted at The LAB Miami. The series is supported by Knight Foundation and Endeavor Miami, the first U.S. affiliate of a global nonprofit that helps foster high-impact entrepreneurship.

Marco Giberti, an early-stage investor at Vesuvio Ventures, moderated the discussion and asked Ahlvarsson what opportunities and challenges local entrepreneurs should expect to face in Miami.

“What I see is that Miami has all the components of being a city that continues to see startup growth and a multiplier effect,” Ahlvarsson said. “What is missing here are the success stories that suck people in and get investors to set up offices here.”

Ahlvarsson shared a variety of lessons learned throughout his experience launching over 20 companies — such as Xing, FON, Spray, Boxman, Letsbuyit and SIME — around the globe.

He offered these eight insights for entrepreneurs and investors:

1. Launch your idea in the right context

“If you’re not in the right context or with the right people, your idea is a liability,” Ahlvarsson said. “Start to think about how to do your idea and be passionate about finding context. Find out where interesting people are intersecting like what we’re doing today [in this discussion].”

2. Be curious about untapped markets

“One of the best questions we asked [in Sweden] was why are all of the best [gaming programs online] for guys?” he said. “The girls were completely underserved, which is why we now have 5 million girls playing Stable Stars right now online riding around on ponies and essentially playing Minecraft for girls, which has a great pay model at $12 per month.”

3. It’s a mistake to think there is a formula for success

“Once you find a model where it doesn’t cost much [to launch] or take much time to fail, and you’re launching in the right context, do it like the Googles and Ubers do it and continue,” Ahlvarsson said. “Know that it doesn’t matter what the media says. Move forward as though you’re right and everyone else is wrong because it’s a mistake to think there is a formula for success.

4. Do not work with people who are immoral

“There are very a few times that I have worked with people that I don’t respect,” he said, “and every time it has not worked. If it seems like a fantastic deal and a fantastic investment, but you don’t respect the dealers of that business, then it’s bad for business. Things will go badly like they have for me every time.”

5. Learn to sell

“You have to be able to sell and you have to be able to communicate,” Ahlvarsson said. “And those are often the same thing. It’s important that you learn to tell your story. The skill of storytelling is a very important thing.”

6. Be curious about technology

“Too often, the marketers walk with a different stride than the coders and one often doesn’t get along with the other,” he said. “A passion for technology is a real trait and it’s important to have a team that is speaking the same language. I want to learn to code because I want to better understand technology and the way coders speak.”

7. Surround yourself with people who are complementary

“Some people may disagree with this, but I work with people who are my best friends because I believe that if I succeed, it should be with my friends and if I fail, I’d like to be with my friends,” Ahlvarsson said. “It’s important to surround yourself with people who are complementary, which is the main reason that I wrote the book, “Mission Possible,” about entrepreneur-types and what makes them tick.”

8. Miami must change its clock speed

“There is a different clock speed here in Miami’s social space,” he said. “Miami would benefit if it were not so often 30 minutes late. Be sure to make the 10 calls that day and create a sense of urgency in everything that you do. To be successful, put deadline to your term sheet, write out the stakes, agree on a time plan that moves you and moves the business forward through all demands.”

For more information on upcoming events, visit

Jenna Buehler is a Miami-based freelance writer.

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