Start-up Advice: Ray Smith, Datahug

16 Sep 2016

Ray Smith, CEO and co-founder, Datahug

Ray Smith is the San Francisco-based CEO and co-founder of SaaS firm Datahug.

Smith co-founded Datahug in 2010, having spent six years working as a manager in Accenture’s Systems Integration and Technology group.

SpaceX Falcon 9

In your opinion, which areas of technology hold the greatest scope for opportunities?

Successful entrepreneurs focus on real-world business problems and how they can solve them in a faster, cheaper, or better way.

Technology is turning many traditional industries upside down. Artificial intelligence and virtual reality are generating a lot of buzz as enablers of this transformation. Entrepreneurs need to remember that the primary factor in the success or failure of their start-up isn’t the type of technology they choose, but the experience they deliver to their end users.

Are good entrepreneurs born or can they be made?

They can be made. I believe that early life experiences are the key to making an entrepreneur. I’m not talking about pursuing a particular college degree, or working in a specific job. If you want to become an entrepreneur, ask yourself what have you done to build your own desire to solve problems. Think differently and pursue a goal. A must-read on this topic is Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.

‘If you want to become an entrepreneur, ask yourself what have you done to build your own desire to solve problems. Think differently and pursue a goal’

What are the qualities of a good founder?

The number one quality is your ability to communicate your vision.

Great teams build successful companies. The job of the founder is to get people to believe in their vision and go above and beyond the call of duty on a daily basis.

Early hires need to see the belief in that vision and understand the goals that need to be achieved to deliver that vision. An inspired team member will produce amazing results when they believe in you and you trust in them.

What does a successful entrepreneur need to do every day?

A successful entrepreneur needs to motivate people inside and outside the building every day.

What resources and tools are an absolute must for your arsenal?

  • Face-to-face meetings, coffees and strolls
  • Gmail – master that inbox
  • CRM – build your rolodex and learn how to manage a sales pipeline early in your career
  • Mentors – find people who have previously solved the problems you are working on

How do you assemble a good team?

Mark Zuckerberg says that he hires his direct reports based on whether he himself would be happy to work for them. Seek out people who are better and different to you. Remember that, in the early days, attitude trumps aptitude.

What is the critical ingredient to start-up success?

Product-market fit is the only thing that really matters. Focus all your energy in the early days on making sure you have built something that people want to buy now.

You are just as likely to fail with poor market timing (launching a product people don’t know they need) as you are with poor product development (building the wrong product).

Once you’re sure you have that product-market fit, focus on hiring the right people to scale the company.

What are the biggest mistakes that founders make?

  • Letting your ego grow out of control
  • Making poor product decisions based on small sample sets of data or without customer feedback
  • Outsourcing sales to a hired gun before you crack it yourself
  • Hiring the wrong people

Who is your business hero and why?

Elon Musk. I don’t know him personally but just look at his accomplishments. He continues to risk all his wealth to make pioneering breakthroughs. Everybody else would have given up and enjoyed the spoils of their previous successes. His conviction of vision and ability to get a team to do amazing things is truly admirable.

I also have a lot of respect for the silent heroes out there who have worked extremely hard, have amassed countless achievements and largely stayed out of the spotlight to maintain a work-life balance.

Whats the number-one piece of advice you have for entrepreneurs?

Play the game but don’t let the game play you. You need to put yourself out there. A lot.

Spread your infectious ideas and positivity for all to see. However, be smart around the time and purpose of each networking event. If you are going to see the same faces and can’t come up with one thing to achieve from that late evening mixer – don’t go! Recharge for the next day.

Ray Smith will be at SaaStock, the first European B2B SaaS conference, at the RDS on 22 September. Visit or follow @SaaStock for more information.