Lars Rasmussen discusses the key ingredients for successful founders
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Lars Rasmussen is a Danish computer scientist and tech angel investor with a long history of working within the startup ecosystem both within Australia and internationally, including as co-founder of Google Maps, and as Director of Engineering for Facebook in London. In 2015, Rasmussen announced his departure from Facebook to co-found a music startup, Weav Musi, with his partner Elomida Visviki. In his conversation with guest host Will Tjo, Lars discusses his love of Sydney, what he sees as key ingredients for successful founders, as well as the difficult balancing act between self belief through adversity and knowing when to quit.
Lars’s Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lars_Rasmussen_(software_developer)
Weav Music: https://weav.io/
Lars on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/larserasmussen/
Adam Spencer: Hi. I’m Adam Spencer, and Welcome to Day One, the podcast that spotlights Australian startups, founders and the organizations that empower Australian entrepreneurship. We go back to the beginning to tell a story of Australia’s most inspiring founders and how they built their companies. You’re listening to a special interview series as part of a documentary W2D1 is producing about the history of the Australian startup ecosystem. This episode was conducted by guest host Will Tjo.
Will Tjo: Hi, everyone, and welcome back to the Australian Startup Series interviews. Our guest today is Lars Rasmussen. Welcome to the show, Lars.
Lars Rasmussen: Thank you. How are you?
Will Tjo: I’m very well, thank you. Lars, could you please tell us a bit about yourself and what you are currently working on?
Lars Rasmussen: Yeah. I’m a computer scientist by training and I worked for a long time, as a programmer, and then as a manager, then as an entrepreneur. Along the way, I started investing a little bit, angel investing, and that’s gradually become my day job, if you like. Yeah. That’s what I do now. I have maybe 50 startups in my portfolio, several of them Australian. My best ones, of course, Australian. Yeah. That, then being a fairly new dad with my five-year old delightful daughter.
Will Tjo: Obviously, you’ve got such an extensive career being the founder of Google Maps, and so on and so forth. Would you say that you’ve always been an entrepreneur?
Lars Rasmussen: I would say I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I guess I got this from my family. My parents started companies, not in tech. It was in journalism. But, yeah, I always thought it was a cool thing to do on thing. I did spend a long time in school. I have a PhD in computer science, so I was in my, goodness, late 20s before I even graduated. My first job was a job, but I was like the first engineer in a startup that a professor from UC Berkeley. My globy started in California. I’ve got that media taste of what startup life is like. When that was over after a few years, that’s when my brother and I started a little company that became Google Maps. We started as an independent company called Where 2 Technologies, and that’s actually also part of my Australian history.
Lars Rasmussen: I was kind of half in Australia when it started. After my brother and I worked on this thing for maybe six to nine months where we hired two Australian friends of ours, Noel Gordon and Steven Ma, and kind of centered the development in a little spare bedroom in Sydney, which is my favorite city in the world, by the way. With Athens in Greece, a close second. That’s where I live now. That’s kind of how it started. We sold it to Google. It was a fantastic ride, obviously, to be part of creating Google Maps. As you may know it, it helps start the engineering office for Google in Sydney, which is boom, has always been one of Google’s best performing engineering outfits. Again, I’ve been on the investing side of startups too and I’ve helped other people start their companies. I think it’s a tremendously rewarding thing when it works and it’s a tremendously painful thing when it doesn’t, which I’ve also experienced a bunch.
Will Tjo: Out of curiosity, why did you choose Sydney?
Lars Rasmussen: Look, it’s a combination of always having been in love with Australia. I was born in Denmark. Even as a kid, I had this thing about Australia. I had a pen pal in Australia when I was a kid. I just loved the place. Never really traveled much, my family was not big on traveling. It’s just always a thing in my head that I really wanted to go to Australia. This company I joined right after graduating, they ended up building a small development team in Sydney. This was in the dot-com bubble days. Engineers were really hard to find. Our CEO had some mates in Australia. He hired them. They settled a law office, and so on. The bubble burst and that company kind of died, but it was just enough that I’d made some friends in Australia.
Lars Rasmussen: Actually, at the time, I was falling in love with a Cuban woman who became my wife. It was difficult at the time for Dane and a Cuban to be together in California where I lived. This was under George W. Bush. The immigration policies for Cubans were super crazy strict. We were like, ‘Look, there’s this thing in Australia.” I asked my employer, Digital Fountain, they were called, “Can I go to Australia so I could be with my girlfriend?”, who became my wife later. They were like, “Sure.” We did the paperwork. We flew together to Sydney. Unfortunately, we kind of landed when Digital Fountain was downsizing dramatically because there was this big stock market crash centered in tech back in what? 2001 or so. But we just immediately fell in love with Sydney. I loved it, loved it, loved it.
Lars Rasmussen: I was kind of back and forth between Sydney and Australia as we were starting up the mapping company and… Sorry, between Sydney and California, I mean. Once we sold it to Google, I really wanted to stay in Australia. Google did not have an engineering office in Australia, and so I was kind of surprised when I rocked up to the top VP of engineering at Google and they said, “Hey, do you mind if we stay in Australia?” I was like, “No, sounds great. Do it.” I went back to Australia, and Noel and Steve, of course, stayed there. They’re from Australia, from Sydney. We just kind of rocked up in the head of five person sales team and we did hired office and we grew the hired office a little bit. The three of us were sitting there and we built Google Maps, and we turned the technology our little startup had built into Google Maps out of that little Sydney office with my brother who stayed in California and just two more engineers at Google added to the team.
Lars Rasmussen: Of course, that became a really big success. Maybe nine months after we launched Google Maps, that same VP, Alan Eustace, I think he’s left Google now, but he’s a fantastic, fantastic both engineer and a topnotch executive. He was like, “Look, Google Maps is such a big success. You guys are clearly thriving down in Australia. Why don’t you make a real office out of… Start hiring.” There were two reasons why Google was into this. One was that they just had the theory that Google should have engineering offices in every major city in the world, and Sydney, that was one of them. Alan had a checklist and Sydney was on it. When I rocked up and said, “Hey, can I do this thing in Sydney?” He was like, “Oh, check.” He met an objective that Larry Page, I think, has said.
Lars Rasmussen: From the other thing is that there was this really senior engineer at Google, Rob Pike, great friend of mine now. He also had a thing for Australia and he had kind of a told Google, “When you ever want to build an office in Australia, I want to help.” Those two things together, the fact that already seasoned Google engineer, plus me who was a newbie, was willing to go there, then it just all worked out. It was a fantastic thing. We’re going to live in Sydney, which in my opinion, you can’t beat the quality of life in Sydney. We got to live there, we got to hire the best engineers in town, and we got to work on Google Maps. It was, both professionally and lifestyle-wise, some of the best times in my life.
Will Tjo: That’s really amazing. What was the community like in Sydney at that time, the startup ecosystem? Was it vibrant or was it nonexistent from your view?
Lars Rasmussen: Well, it was definitely existent. I would not say it was thriving because when I arrived in Sydney, it was right when the bubble had burst, the dot-com bubble had burst. Everyone was losing money and [inaudible] is super overvalued. Companies were dying. A lot of the big companies pulled out in Sydney, and small companies too. The startup that brought me there died. Money was really hard to get investment at the time. On the other hand, Atlassian had started, was growing, was becoming a big thing. A bunch of the people who have been let go at the bubble burst were eager to build stuff. A lot of the really interesting thing came out of this weird time when the bubble burst and you go from this, “We’re all going to be rich. We’re all going to be rich. We’re all going to be rich,” to, “Whoa, everyone’s firing everyone.”
Lars Rasmussen: That kind of unleashes a lot of creativity. I would argue that our little startup, Where 2 Tech kind of came out of that. We very literally started the company because we got laid off from a largest startup that died when the bubble burst. Sure, it was hard to raise money, but that also brings an amount of clarity. When you’re so constrained with resources, you have to build just the core of the core of the core of your vision and see if that’s that sticks. I would say that it was there, the seeds were there, and there’s one tree, Atlassian, had that taken route, and was really impressive, and was growing, was clearly going to be a big thing. It was a great time. It was a great time to be there. I’ll tell you one thing that I think is interesting. The people, you always build up a set of advisors and friends in your field.
Lars Rasmussen: When I announced, “Look, I’m going to move to Australia permanently,” there was a lot of well-meaning advice not to do that. There was a very strong impression that Australians, they have it too good. They don’t work so hard because life there is just too good. It’s all about the beaches, the Barbies, the beer. That turned out to be completely unfounded. I knew I was worried. Maybe this is just like a land of leisure and I won’t be able to do anything professionally. Of course, now it turned out quite the opposite. By far, by far, by far my two biggest successes, professional successes in life has come out of Sydney. Of course what happens is, we talked a bunch about this when I arrived at Sydney, that Sydney has a very strong tourism industry because it’s such a beautiful and amazing country. The tourism industry portrays the country like that, as they land of leisure where people don’t work very hard and it’s just one long party.
Lars Rasmussen: But, in reality, it’s completely different. Australia has an incredibly well-educated workforce, an incredibly hardworking, thirsty for, say hungry for success, kind of workforce. It was great actually. It was a great place for me to work on the [inaudible] and later, of course, to help Canva get off the ground. I’ve invested in a couple other companies that I’m very excited about, that are a little younger than Canva, but I think Australia, for the size of the country, it has an incredible startup community, has an incredible impact on the world, and then you get to learn one of the most beautiful places on earth. I’m sure we used to say this, so you can probably find nicer places to live and you can probably find better places to work as a techie.
Lars Rasmussen: But the combination of having this major world class, vibrant city full of hardworking, well-educated people in one of those beautiful places in the world, the combination of the two is, to me, unbeatable. Actually, when the Google office started growing, going very fast, it quickly became the most transferred to office of all of the Google engineering offices. A lot of the people who worked there were people who came from other Google offices that wanted to come work there, both because we’re working on really exciting things but also because of the life there’s just so good, that I’m surprised that anyone decided not to go. You can probably tell I miss Australia a little bit.
Will Tjo: Just a little bit.
Lars Rasmussen: Although I have it pretty good here in Manhattan so I should not complain.
Will Tjo: I’d love to get your views on how our ecosystem has developed over the last two decades. Is it what you are expected it to be, for better or worse?
Lars Rasmussen: Look, from where I am, my expectations were high end and they’ve been well-exceeded. Of course, I’ve been super lucky arriving at the right time. When things at bubble burst, new things were just getting started and I got to work for well-funded entities. I got to meet some of a large number of the best, best, best engineers in town because they were attracted to Google, of course. I’ve been lucky that I was in a position to help young entrepreneurs like [inaudible] or Canva, like Daniel Danilatos who started a company called Neara. I have to think about that because it just changed their name from LineSoft. Another one, I think we used to be out of Melbourne, they just moved to London called LawAdvisor, and some others that didn’t do so well.
Lars Rasmussen: I’m just super fortunate to have been in that situation and I could offer a little bit of support, and played in a small role in these incredible journeys. Like Canva, I think, is by far one of the most… In the top five of private software companies in the world. Just 10 years into this journey, started by two super young entrepreneurs that will not be like your… They grew up in Perth and started their first company in Perth, and they might not be your first choice. “Oh, these are the ones who are going to change the world.’ But once you meet them, which are… That’s an opportunity I only got because I had done certain things before that in Sydney with the mapping thing and with Google and so on.
Lars Rasmussen: Now, they have blown through all expectations. My wildest expectations for that company have blown through and they seem to be just getting started. Like I said, there are other companies and they’re a bunch. I still am learning about new big thriving Australian companies that are doing so well. It’s impressive for a country that’s so relatively small compared to… I’ve worked in New York, I worked in Silicon Valley. Of course, I worked in London, much, much bigger countries. Yet, I think, well certainly, personally, I found much more success in Sydney.
Will Tjo: It sounds like I’m hearing that for the country of our size, we really punched above our weight, and a lot of unicorns and exceptional founders have come to be from Australia.
Lars Rasmussen: Yes.
Will Tjo: Shifting gears a little bit. From your perspective, what could we still be doing better though? What can we improve on?
Lars Rasmussen: To be honest, I haven’t spent a lot of time in Sydney recently. Part, of course, because of the pandemic. But even before then I only did a few visits. Actually, my most recent visit was when Canva was doing some press work. They were releasing their first iPad app and I think they were valued in the hundreds of millions. I remember saying out loud to the press that I think this is a going to be the next unicorn of Australia. I remember thinking, “That can’t be true,” but all the objective signs were there. The team obviously had what it took and still I’m like, “That is too good to be true,” but it turned out not to be at all. I can’t really tell you a lot about what it’s like now. I can tell you what it was like when I was there, when I spent a lot of time talking to people about entrepreneurship, and technology, and Australia.
Lars Rasmussen: I think the single thing that came up again and again and again was people questioning whether it’s possible to do things like Canva in a place like Australia simply because of its size and the distance from the rest of the world and so on. I kept trying to explain to people that I think, possibly, the difference between being able to do something like that and not being able to do something like that is exactly what you believe the answer to that question is. When I met Mel and Cliff, there was no shot of a hint of a doubt in their mind that they were going to change the world and they were going to do it out of Australia. It didn’t even occur to them to question that, but many other people did at the time. Again, this was a long time ago. Investment money was hard to get turns on. I think you have to have this, I like to call it pathological optimism, to be successful at entrepreneurship. You have to have this undying bordering on irrational belief that of course you can, because then it turns out that you actually can.
Lars Rasmussen: In particular with software and technology, you can be… Anywhere in the world, there is a sufficient number of high quality engineers to hire. You can build anything for the whole world, that’s just how technology works. If you’re doing hardware, other more traditional old school businesses, it might be a little harder out of Australia. But with software, yes, absolutely. You can do it from there. Probably even more so now after the pandemic and more people have gotten used to the idea of working from home, working remotely, that might make it even easier. Actually, it’s like I’m really impressed with how Canva has tackled the crises, in both in terms of keeping the morale of their team up and also coming up with the right balance between people need to be in the office occasionally to have that face time, but we recognize that you can actually be quite productive from home. I’ve seen this in other places when I travel and here in Athens as well, that before you can be successful, you have to have the pathological optimism that of course you can.
Lars Rasmussen: Athens as well, city the same size as Sydney, the same kind of property of tremendously well-educated engineers, hasn’t quite had that first success yet, even though this country went with tremendous financial difficulty after the financial crisis and so on, but there are many exciting things. In fact, in a lot of ways, I feel like Athens is where not quite where Sydney was when I went to Sydney, but a little bit further along the journey of becoming a really thriving, successful startup place, but not as far along. As what we see, Athens still has to produce first unicorn. It got pretty close recently with one of a real estate-focused startup here. Anyway, so again, I think that’s the key thing. It’s like just do it. I’m going to steal someone else’s motto. Sydney has everything it takes and then some to be a successful tech entrepreneur.
Will Tjo: Yeah. I love that. You briefly, I guess, alluded to it a bit about Athens and having them produce their first unicorns to get things kicked off, because I know that you were one of the key people for the Google Wave project, and it was Samantha Wong who leads Blackbird in New Zealand, who described it as of the PayPal mafia of Australia. I’d love to get you a general thoughts on this and the perspective of is this needed for the development and growth of the ecosystem, this sort of flywheel?
Lars Rasmussen: I think there’s always going to be the situation in a, let’s call it a new place, where there isn’t yet the kind of thriving ecosystem that exists now in Australia. Everyone is trying to make that first thing happens that… Let’s call it a unicorn. I’m not sure that’s such a meaningful definition anymore. But the first seed that turns into a real tree, like Atlassian or maybe the map thing that turned into the Google office there, and that just creates and accelerates things greatly because now people hear the story that, yes, it was possible right here. With the people here, with the environment, and with the ecosystem, the infrastructure that’s here, yes, it was possible. It both inspires a bunch of people. It also teaches a bunch of people how to do things. The Wave project, which by the way, was tremendously, tremendously painful to me personally when it failed.
Lars Rasmussen: It had this property that it collected an incredible amount of really, truly outstanding world-class engineers, which makes it embarrassing that I couldn’t turn it into something more successful. But it had that effect that it gathered up this incredible amount of people. At the same time, they were all kind of let go, not fired or anything, but the project disintegrated really quickly. Suddenly, there was this larger… We had 60 people on the team who were all just unbelievable, talented. They were all now sort of with Wonderlust. The Canva thing, by the way, the reason I was able to help Mel and Cliff get started had a lot to do with the fact that Wave had just failed. There were all these people I could introduce them to, like Cameron who became the third co-founder there had worked on the Wave team. Cam Adams and Dave Hearnden was now the CTO of Canva. He was an engineer on that team.
Lars Rasmussen: Many other people that work at Canva now have been key members of the Wave team. Like I mentioned earlier, my day job is now really more about investing than being an entrepreneur myself. Bill often asked me, “What’s your theory?” I tell him, “Honestly, I don’t have a theory, but the one thing I have that you could possibly call a theory is that if any one of those people from the Google Wave team in Australia is part of a founding effort of a startup, if I get a chance to invest, I will invest.” That has worked out super well. Canva, of course, is a great example of this. Neara, the other Australian company I mentioned, is an example of this. I just invested actually, just in the past couple months in two other companies from people out of the Wave team who are no longer in Australia though. Dall Ozuha who’s in New York, Gramai Anderson who’s in Norway, they were both working with us in Australia, and they’re staying, and they’ve just started their own companies.
Lars Rasmussen: I’m just like, “Can I please invest?” They’re like, “Well, can we tell you what we’re working on?” I’m like, “Sure, it’s fine. Tell me.” Then they tell me and then I get even more excited. But it’s just an incredible number of people. Now, just back to your question, is it necessary? I don’t think that particular thing is necessary, but I think when you follow the growth of a place from not having much going on in tech startups to having a lot going on in tech startups, there’s always a few things like that you can point to, that something happened. Sometimes, in this case, was really a failure. Google Wave was a big failure, but still enough came out of it that it helped start a bunch of other things.
Will Tjo: Yeah. I love how you constantly describe these, I guess, crisis points and make something spread out of it. In Sydney, you first described it as post dot-com bust. Even though everyone was losing money and so on, people ended up finding their way towards startups. With the Google Wave project here, you talked about how that led you to invest in Canva.
Lars Rasmussen: I do think that crisis, everything goes in ups and downs in the world, and I do think often it’s a better time to start something new and risky when it’s not that… Certainly, starting something when you’re just at the top of a bubble that’s about to burst, that can be a really unfortunate time to start something because you start with too many resources and you build up too big a burn rate thinking that money is so easily available that you have to worry about it, and then suddenly the money goes away because of some macroeconomic thing that happens. The financial crisis, or the dot-com burst, or whatever it seems like may or may not be happening this year. Suddenly, the money goes away and it’s hard to survive when you started at boom time. But we started at the worst of times. We actually didn’t raise a cent of money before we sold to Google. We did everything on our own money, we did some contracting gigs, we didn’t pay ourselves at all.
Lars Rasmussen: We cashed in some pensions, that kind of thing. That’s painful, of course, but it does, I think, really unleash a lot of hard work, and creativity, and hunger, and so on, but I think is a good start. But it’s possible that it’s kind of midway between the total bottom and the total top when things are going up and up and there’s enough time left on the bubble, that maybe better. I haven’t had that particular experience, but you can see some of the FinTech things that have happened recently that goes from nothing to billions of dollars in just a few years because there’s so much money available right now. That might be a better time. But for me, what is important is when crisis do happen, that that’s actually, I think, should encourage people to start things and not to be [inaudible] and give up. You may have to tighten your belt a little for a while, but I think it’s actually on balance and a pretty good time to be starting something new, is right in the aftermath of the bubble bursting.
Will Tjo: Lars, what we’re trying to do here at the series is to document our history just so that we can look to the future. We’re trying to reach all corners of the ecosystem from founders, policy makers, academics, and so on. What one message would you want to give them?
Lars Rasmussen: I’d say they’re all a bunch of lucky bastards for living in Sydney, obviously. Life has pulled me away. I’m still hoping someday I can find my way back down there. Yeah. Look, just to keep at it. I think you are in one of the most amazing, if not the most amazing, place in the world to build startups well to live in general and therefore to build startups. Like I said before, the ingredients you need is a city big enough to provide the workforce you need and with enough super well-educated individuals, I think engineers, of course, but you need that in all the fields that you need to hire for. Sydney just has that, and then on top, the most incredibly amazing lifestyle, which is both good for the people who live there, but it also means you can easily attract others to come work there when needed. That certainly was our experience.
Will Tjo: Yeah, it’s just as long as the core ingredients are present.
Lars Rasmussen: Yeah, exactly. I hope to say this true for Athens, that remains to be seen. I’m doing my little to make it work. I don’t have a Wave team here in Athens that I can help plug into exciting startups, but maybe I should build another failing project here, which we invest in some companies here. We encourage people. Actually, I gave a tech talk here back when Athens was at the bottom, financially, a few years after the financial crisis, is it? I gave a talk about this particular thing and how my biggest success started in a similar time financially. Certainly, this was in 2012. Now, I’m back 10 years later, and a lot of exciting things have started since then for sure. It feels like, I hope the pandemic isn’t going to mess that up, but it feels like economically it’s springtime here in Athens. If you didn’t happen to live in Sydney, I’d encourage you to come work here. But I know the one place in the world I cannot get people to come to Athens from is Sydney, Australia. Just too good there.
Will Tjo: That’s amazing. Lastly, Lars, it’s the advice question. If a brand new entrepreneur came to you, given all your experience, your wins, and your mistakes, what’s one piece of advice you’d give them to increase their chances of success?
Lars Rasmussen: I don’t know if there is one universal piece that will apply for everyone. I’d like to learn a little bit more about what they’re planning to do, but some things I found myself mentioning more than once to different entrepreneurs is… This is not my advice. I think my company that popularized this thing, then you should only really start a company when you just can’t help yourself. When the idea that you want to work on is so important to you, and you think it’s so important to the world, and that you’re the right person to do it, that you just can’t stop thinking about it. As opposed to sometimes, and particularly in boom times, people are like, “Wow, I should go start a company because other people who start a company seems to be doing well and having a good time and making lots of money. It’s on.”
Lars Rasmussen: That’s not necessarily the best motivation. Often, you hear people say that it’s the execution and not the idea that matters. I don’t agree with this. You have to have both. Your vision has to be correct. I think, to a large extent, that’s actually what went wrong with Wave is that the vision was too much about the work tool I personally needed, and the people around me personally needed, and not so much about the work tool that a mass market needed. We pitched this to Google as being the next email and it was just… There was a misalignment there in the market need versus what our vision was. That’s one thing. The other thing is this thing about pathological optimism. You have to have it. I was actually just talking to a company here in Athens who… They had kind of boots stocked themselves to a pretty decent business in tech. We’re not going to mention who it is, but they had a bunch of people. They’re making a good deal of revenue, but they’re not going very fast in the space they’re at.
Lars Rasmussen: They have started talking internally about whether they should really swing for the fences, do a real international startup aiming to be billions and billions of dollars. They had that same question, “Why would do you think that’s possible? Could we do that?” I told them that I think they’re in this position where the only missing ingredients is for you to answer that question with a yes without hesitation. If you have to get me to tell you that you can do it, you probably can’t. It has to come from this sense of where you can’t possibly fail, which obviously objectively isn’t true, but you have to have this undying belief that it’s possible and then you end up really quite surprising yourself. I mean, not surprising yourself because you were sure that was the case, but maybe surprising the people around you. Those are the key things I see over and over. Having the right vision, in addition of course to having the right team, and then having that kind of spirit.
Lars Rasmussen: Actually, one more thing, if you have time. Often, I now I have 50 investments, and as is often the case in an angel investor’s portfolio, there’s this one standout thing called Canva that’s just blowing up in ways that are incredible. Now I step back and I try to look at all 50 of the [inaudible] . Many of the ones I did, in a similar period of time, so I invested in Canva around 10 years ago. Many of the other things I invested around then have failed and lost all the money. I try to look at, if I only knew what I knew about each of these when I invested and it was all at the same time, could I pick up what is it about Mel and Cliff that makes them the big success story? Part of it is the vision they had was just brilliant and in a space where many other people didn’t dare go because they thought they’ll be the incumbent in design, have just one.
Lars Rasmussen: Yet, Mel and Cliff who are in the field and intricately familiar with Adobe’s products, no, they haven’t. But I think the thing that really stands out about them is the incredible tenacity that they have, the incredible work ethic, almost scary. I tell you, we met in this kind of networking organization that’s about kite surfing, and being on the beach, and talking tech. Mel often talks about how she learned how to kite surf just to meet those people who invest in the company. But I remember we were all on the beach in these events. When the rest of us where in the beach partying, Mel and Cliff were in the room working every day. They just didn’t stop. They were massaging their pitch, and they were working on the vision, and they were doing this, or just wouldn’t stop. I hope they, now that they’re among the most successful people in the world, that they get a chance to relax a little.
Will Tjo: Yeah.
Lars Rasmussen: But that’s the thing, this undying, “I will not give up. I have an undying belief in my vision.” That seems to be an ingredient that is necessary to be a successful entrepreneur.
Will Tjo: That’s really inspiring. To play the devil’s advocate a little bit, where do you draw the line between knowing that you are beating a dead horse and having that undying belief?
Lars Rasmussen: That’s a really good question. I don’t have a super good answer for that, to be perfectly honest. I have obviously been in both situations where with the Maps story, I can trace several times where it was really tempting to give up. We’re doing this thing, we try to raise money, no one invested. We try to hire people, no one would join the team until we got Noel and Steven involved down in Australia. It was really tempting to give up. I love to say that I have the same kind of undying tenacity, and maybe I do, maybe I don’t. But I think the fact that we were in this crisis mode in tech and very few companies were hiring, that was part of the, “We’re not giving up because what are we going to do? Because no one’s hiring.” I mean, Google was really the only company we considered. When we considered giving up, we’re like, “We can go get a job at Google.”
Lars Rasmussen: We’re like, “No, no, we can keep going.” There, I think, definitely, if we have not had the we will not give up mentality, Google Maps would’ve just not happened. There were many points where it looked like it was going to fail kind of thing. On the other hand, I worked on things that always didn’t work out. Where do you stop? You stop when you really just can’t continue, in my opinion. Many, many, many big successes have gone through these near death experiences where if the entrepreneur had given up, just wouldn’t have happened. By having this tenacity, it still comes out it. Then the flip side is you have to be willing to, or maybe you should just ignore it entirely as you’re trying your thing, but you have to be willing to suffer some pretty big setbacks.
Lars Rasmussen: We’ve done this thing with Google Maps, huge, huge success, and then I think we were overconfident, if such a thing as possible. I know I’m partly contradicting myself. We went in and we did this thing. Even though I’d had the success prior, financially, we were fine and so on, it was really hard. It was really hard when Google suddenly pulled a plug on the project. Particular because so many people knew about it. Much as I love to say I don’t care what people think about me, of course, I do. Having told so many people that this was going to be a big, or implied to them that this was going to be a big thing, it was very painful. That’s the flip side of it. Right now, I’m not engaged personally in entrepreneurship. Part of it is it’s a rollercoaster.
Lars Rasmussen: You have to be willing to ride this rollercoaster that has massive ups and massive downs to it. As an investor, I get to kind of ride 20 separate roller coasters at the same time. With some luck, they’ll even each other out for me so I can be a little calmer in my life. I just had my first child. She’s five now and I get to spend more time with her. That’s a choice I’ve made to try and help with the experience I’ve had and the little bit of money I can help invest sort of in early stage stuff. But I have to be honest with you, when I talk to an entrepreneur, I’m the investor, I’m envious. There’s part of me that really wants to be on the other side of that table and be the one who’s about to do this incredibly exciting journey with its ups and downs. Maybe, who knows, maybe I’ll start a company with my daughter when she’s a little older. Who knows? Anyhow.
Will Tjo: Yeah. I think I get what you’re saying there. Yeah. It seems to me you’d much rather go to the other extreme of beating a dead horse than risk giving up too early.
Lars Rasmussen: Yeah. I think you have to have that approach. You have to have that approach. You have to be willing to take the beating if it fails or I think you are just unlikely to succeed. I think Mel and Cliff, when I tell this story, they can… Obviously, I am not going to tell their stories here, but they actually before Canva, they had some other companies they started. They went through these kind of near death things where they just pull rabbits out of the hat. You have to do that, I think.
Will Tjo: Yeah. Well, it’s been absolutely brilliant having you on today.
Lars Rasmussen: Well, thank you. It’s been lots of fun. Brings back such fun memories. I dk if I mentioned, but I really love Sydney.
Will Tjo: At least a million times, I think.
Lars Rasmussen: I’m super envious because I’m here. Although, again, Athens is pretty cool too.
Will Tjo: Yeah. What’s next for you? Just continually investing?
Lars Rasmussen: Yeah. We are expanding our portfolio. Like I mentioned, just invested actually two things started by former Wave team members. We’ll keep doing this. For now, I spend most of my time just trying to be a dad, which is quite hard to, but delightful, and then we’ll see. We’ll see. I had started a company with my wife in music tech, which eventually we handed over to the team. That company has not taken off yet, but I’m quite excited about its prospect in particular now that we’ve given it over to a younger set of entrepreneurs. We have tons of ideas of things we might start on. But I’m kind of trying deliberately along the lines of what I said earlier, to not just jump into the next thing without making sure this is really what I want to spend the next 10 years of my life on, if that makes sense. For now, I’m investing. If you happen to know someone looking for an investment, we’re all ears. We, typically, we try to be in the first round. We often invest in companies before they’ve even written a line of code. Yeah, that’s us.
Will Tjo: Where could the audience go if they wanted to learn more and connect with you?
Lars Rasmussen: Connect with me, but I think LinkedIn is probably the easiest place to get rid of me, although it… Get rid of me. Get in touch with me. But I think it honestly works better if you can try and find the common connection that can introduce you, because I do get a fair bit of cold outreach and I’m definitely of the sort of older school that you get more of my attention if you come with a warm introduction from someone I know. Although, if you don’t have that, don’t hesitate reaching out to me on LinkedIn.
Adam Spencer: I hope you enjoyed that interview. More interviews are on the way. Follow the podcast wherever you’re listening right now. Stay tuned for more interviews with many, many more amazing people from the Australian startup ecosystem. Thanks for listening, and see you next time.