Students in the A. Richard Newton Lecture Series attended a fireside chat with 500 Startups partner and Cal alum, Arjun Dev Arora. While Arora is an engineer by training, he developed a keen interest in the business of technology while at Berkeley, which has gone on to inform much of his career. During his talk, Arora chronicled his journey to 500 startups, highlighting important lessons he learned along the way, such as what the “x-factor” every successful entrepreneur needs to have, as well as the best and worst things to do when pitching your startup to investors.
Arjun Dev Arora came to Cal as an EECS major eager to immerse himself in the computer science ecosystem. But, as is true for many undergraduates, Arjun left his four years at Cal having done much more than sit in front of a computer: He was a member of Berkeley Consulting, received the Certificate in Entrepreneurship & Technology from the Sutardja Center, and interned at Deloitte and the finance software company, Intuit.
After graduation Arora worked at Jefferies Broadview for a year before once again returning to the tech world as the head of business development and business strategy at Yahoo’s real estate division.
Arora then ventured out on his own and spearheaded a digital advertising startup called ReTargeter on less than $25,000 in capital. Over the next five years, Retargeter made its way to the forefront of the digital advertising space and was eventually acquired by Sellpoints in 2015.
Following ReTargeter’s acquisition, Arora had some time on his hands and some money to spend, so he tried his hand at angel investing. During his early days angel investing, Arora learned two important lessons: First, angel investing is a high-risk endeavor. Once you write the check, you should not expect to see that money back. Second, out of all of his investments, Arora appreciated those who would update him and keep him in the loop the most. He recommended to any students in the audience who are planning on seeking investors for their companies to keep this sign of respect in mind.
Now Arora is a partner at 500 Startups where he leads their fundraising and investor relations team, as well as assists and invests in the company’s portfolio companies. Over the years, Arora has encountered a variety of different startups and heard many different types of pitches to investors. For Arora, the best pitches are those that are the most genuine and authentic to what the company stands for and the worst is when the pitches are obviously half-baked and underprepared. Being able to distill your message into a concise and professional speech can make a huge difference in how investors react to your product, according to Arora.
As his talk came to an end, Arora emphasized the “x-factor” that sets the successful entrepreneurs apart from the unsuccessful ones is that they know who their customers are and what they want. Likewise, they also have a good pulse on the future of the industry they’re in and can predict the changes to come.
“All of those pieces are critical,” Arora said. “You can’t just have one or two of them; you have to have all of them.”