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Tim Cook to startups: Ditch the VC if they ask about your exit strategy

Speaking to students at the Foundry startup hub in Oxford, England yesterday, Tim Cook had some biting advice to any young entrepreneurs in the room (via TechCrunch): Get up and leave if the VC you are pitching starts asking about your exit or tries to steer you to selling to a big company like Apple or Google.

“If you have a VC asking you that you should get up and walk out of the room.”

“You should not be attracted to that kind of money. Because those people are not for growing your company and helping you — they’re for a quick buck and it’s not worth it.”

Cook also doesn’t think too highly of focus groups, so best avoid those too.

“Most people if you set up a focus group will tell you small changes to the existing thing. And so if you want to go from the stagecoach to the car somebody’s not likely to come up with the car. If you want to go from the Sony Walkman to the iPod someone’s not likely to come up with the iPod.

“But the thing that you have to do is, your focus group is yourself — you should make products that you want to use. And not just want to use but you love. And you can bet that if you love it there are many other people out there that are going to love it too. And so that fundamental thing drives Apple.

“In addition to that — because we do make mistakes on some things that we ship — and so you always want to stay close to your customers and listen to them and be very accessible to them. One of the key reasons we have retail stores is to touch our customers and hear from them.”

And if you are thinking of setting up a startup, work with people who are different from you:

“Recruit the friends of yours who are not like you. If you’re in engineering make sure you get someone in liberal arts. If you’re from the UK make sure you get someone from the Middle East or from China… or wherever.

“Find people that are different from you, where the common thread is they want to change the world and they want to change the world by creating the product or service that you also want. If you can find that collection of people… that is the kernel of a successful company.”

MG