April 26th, 2019

Elevate EIR Gavin Ferlic: “You need to solve important problems.”

Gavin FerlicElevate Ventures Entrepreneur-in-Residence Gavin Ferlic has skin the game in North Central Indiana. He was born and raised in South Bend and attended the University of Notre Dame as an undergrad before earning a JD/MBA degree at Indiana University. He and his wife live in South Bend, with family close by. He joined the Elevate team in January 2017 to support the success of entrepreneurs and the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the South Bend/Elkhart region.


The entrepreneurs you advise often have no business experience. When do you see the most ‘aha’ moments happening?

It’s common for first-time entrepreneurs to originate ideas from assumptions or their own experiences. Some of the most eye-opening moments come during problem validation. A lot of early-stage entrepreneurs have concepts or potential solutions that are really just value-adds, maybe just a slightly better way of addressing a problem. If you’re creating an improvement to an existing solution, and it’s a large enough problem and your improvement is great enough, it can sometimes result in a viable business. But more often, a true high-potential startup needs to have a new, innovative solution to a really big problem.


In business, what have you learned the hard way, when could an EIR have helped you avoid a pitfall or see an opportunity?

Working with early-stage startups early in my career, technology validation was a challenge. You can have a really impressive concept that solves really big, important problems, but if you don’t have a technical background, early on you need technical experts interacting with customers who understand the potential technology solution. Having those experts would have resulted in quicker, more accurate action.

“EIRs lead entrepreneurs to discover good information — and information they might not want to hear — in a relatively efficient manner.”

Putting together the right team helps achieve that kind of speed. An EIR can help make sure your team is aligned in terms of having complimentary skill sets and sharing the same vision to move a product forward. The growth of a company is not always a clear, linear path. EIRs lead entrepreneurs to discover good information — and information they might not want to hear — in a relatively efficient manner. This is important to allow them to pursue either the next venture, a different market or whatever it might be.


Elevate Entrepreneurs-in-Residence

How do you leverage your experience working with many entrepreneurs to guide each individual entrepreneur?

The more entrepreneurs I work with, the more data points and stories I have to share. Themes you see and hear in entrepreneurship are generally the same, whether you’re in ag tech, medical device or another industry or vertical. However, when you’re trying to communicate an idea or strategy to an entrepreneur in medical device, it’s often better to be able to share an analogy within their industry. As you work with more entrepreneurs and startups, you start to gain a full suite of examples to use to hopefully steer the individual entrepreneur down the right path.


In business, who you know is critical to making progress and finding success. Agree or disagree, and why?

Yes, completely agree. Having connections to experienced advisors and mentors is very important. Most important is having connections to customers, the people who you are solving the problem for. It is absolutely essential. A lot of times, early-stage entrepreneurs struggle connecting to business owners and folks who are eventually going to buy their solution.

I think that’s one thing that our state, and the South Bend-Elkhart region in particular, does very well to support entrepreneurs. There is an environment of business leaders and potential customers that is very supportive of entrepreneurs and startups.

Consider this example. If you’re a healthcare technology company in the Bay Area, you’re probably one of thousands, but there are probably no more than four healthcare systems in the Bay Area. Competing to get to the C suite or potential customers at a hospital or healthcare system is really challenging. Whereas, if you’re launching a healthcare startup in our region, you’re one of a handful, and there are people here who can make introductions to folks at the top levels of healthcare — or manufacturing, or education, or government. Those folks want to help startups and entrepreneurs. Those connections to customers are vitally important for any entrepreneur.


What is the most common piece of advice you tell a brand new entrepreneur?

Gavin Ferlic at EventTalk to potential customers to validate the problem. Entrepreneurs at the earliest stages likely have a solution and want to talk about it, but in order for them to really understand their market and make sure they’re developing the right solution, they need to validate the problem. Therefore, the first piece of advice I typically offer is to interview at least 10 prospective customers to find out if the problem you’re solving is important to them. And as an EIR, I try to find those contacts and help with introductions.

When you’re talking to these 10 potential customers, don’t lead with your solution. People are generally nice, and if you say, ‘I’ve been working on this for seven years. What do you think?’ they’re going to say, ‘That sounds great,’ but it’s not going to give you the information you need. Going into those first problem-validation questions, ask the business owner or executive about their problems. If they start to identify something that’s in line with a problem you might be able to solve, continue to probe down that path. If the problem you’re solving is one of the top three problems for someone in that organization, you’re going down the right path to start a business.


What are your top 1-2 podcasts and why?

Along the lines of constant improvement or personal improvement and optimizing the journey, I listen to Tim Ferriss and Tony Robbins. They both provide insights through interviews with leading experts in psychology, business and athletics. There are so many commonalities among the world’s top performers, so if you’re looking to perform at your highest level as an entrepreneur or in any aspect of life, learning from the folks who have had great success and trying to follow some tips and their practices is very valuable for an entrepreneur.

You have to outcompete other startups and entrepreneurs if you’re chasing success. Optimizing the way you work and live is important to that, whether it is taking care of your mind or taking care of your body. All those things are really important to having success in life and in entrepreneurship as well.


What is your favorite business-related movie or movie in which leadership lessons are learned?
“I think that in order to be successful in business, it’s important to be successful in all aspects of your life.”

I think that in order to be successful in business, it’s important to be successful in all aspects of your life. A movie with a really great message is ‘About Time.’ On the surface it seems like a romantic comedy, but it’s actually about the fact that each day is a gift. Fully live that day and enjoy that day. Make the most of the time you spend with others and the time you have to be productive with your business because more than likely your business is about improving the world and changing other people’s lives. If you enjoy that process, you’ll have a better chance of improving the world and changing people’s lives.


Which 1-2 resources in your region (or Indiana) do you consistently direct entrepreneurs to take advantage of and why?

North Central Indiana is home to a wide variety of resources. We have a very strong board at Startup South Bend-Elkhart, and we’ve been able to partner with some great community resources to make sure entrepreneurs are very well supported.

Startup South Bend Elkhart

I’ll give you two unique resources in particular. The first is an event called Needs and Leads, which is a relatively informal opportunity for entrepreneurs at any stage to tell a room of very well-connected individuals and Startup South Bend-Elkhart board members about their business and what they need.  This could include an introduction to customers, funding, introductions to talent — whatever it might be, it’s just an opportunity for entrepreneurs to tap into a very well-connected network.

A second resource for early-stage entrepreneurs is accelerator services made possible through our partnership with the University of Notre Dame and its commercialization engine. These services are so important because a lot of early-stage startups are really just one entrepreneur. The accelerator helps entrepreneurs continue to make progress, validate that progress and hold them accountable in that process. It also provides a pathway and accelerates the speed at which the entrepreneur discovers information and is able to move forward.


North Central Indiana entrepreneurs: Tap into the tools and people Startup South Bend-Elkhart.
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