Playground co-founder Matt Hershenson highlights the importance of finding good people to work with before worrying about a good idea

Students in the A. Richard Newton Lecture Series attended a fireside chat with founder Matt Hershenson. Known for co-founding Danger, the company responsible for bringing the T-Mobile Sidekick to life, Hershenson has also worked at Apple, Phillips, and Google as a hardware engineer and then co-founded Playground, a fund and studio for entrepreneurs. During his talk, Hershenson emphasized the benefits of having good people to work with in order to create great startups.

When Matt Hershenson moved to Silicon Valley to work at Apple after graduating from the University of Michigan, he would not have been able to predict the evolution of the cell phone. But by the time he was the co-founder of Danger, he was on the cutting edge of innovation in cellular technology and would continue to pioneer emerging fields in tech through the venture fund he co-founded, Playground.

For Hershenson, however, vision and big ideas are secondary to the importance of having the right people on your team. In a fireside chat with UC Berkeley students, Hershenson imparted career advice where he emphasized finding good people first in order to found good companies and products.

Before there was Danger, there were just three friends: Andy Rubin, Joe Britt, and Hershenson. Hershenson had worked with Britt at Catapult Entertainment, Britt had worked with Rubin at Apple, and Rubin worked with Hershenson’s brother at General Magic. The trio eventually reached a point where they wanted to start a company together and the idea for the Sidekick came later. Hershenson also highlighted the benefits of having multiple founders of a company instead of just one, calling those startups more “resilient” when tough decisions have to be made.

“People make all of the difference,” Hershenson said. “Knowing you want to start something doesn’t mean you have to know what to start.”

Throughout his talk, Hershenson stressed how learning to work with a multitude of different people and different personalities is crucial to a successful career. As a founder, Hershenson said that he needed to learn to have a good relationship with his investors, adding that those relationships are often more permanent that your relationship with your other employees or even fellow co-founders.

Now, running a venture capital firm, the tables have turned and Hershenson still utilizes the people skills he cultivated over the years to inform his interactions with founders. A big part of investing, according to Hershenson, is learning how to make the most informed decisions you can with regards to choosing which companies to invest in.

“It’s not that I know what’s going to happen, it’s that we’re trying to look at things where the future is going to be different from the past,” Hershenson said. “I could be right, I could be wrong. Hopefully, I’m more right than not.”

 

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