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Startup advice for young entrepreneurs from AI PhD researcher

Startup advice for young entrepreneurs from AI PhD researcher
Startup advice for young entrepreneurs from AI PhD researcher

Will Bodewes, artificial intelligence (AI) PhD researcher and multi-startup entrepreneur, says starting a new company should be challenging and uncomfortable before it’s successful. “Nothing will make sense, and everything will feel like it’s failing until, finally, something works.”

Bodewes sat down for a wide-ranging interview with Locate2u before he and his co-founder, Nisal Ranasinghe, headed to Silicon Valley for the prestigious Y Combinator accelerator program. Their startup, Phonely, acts like an AI receptionist, handling a million calls simultaneously in different languages.  

Why Will Bodewes is a name to remember

Phonely isn’t Bodewes’ first time trying his hand at a startup. He’s learned a thing or two in the three companies he started over the years. 

With a mechanical engineering degree, a 22-year-old Bodewes started his first venture, Spoke Sound, wireless speakers that look like art on a wall. 

Only one month into the business, they were accepted into an accelerator program called SCAPE. “During my time at Spoke Sound, I had the opportunity to do everything from raising VC money to filing provisional patents.”

Bodewes and Ranasinghe are heading to Silicon Valley from July to September with half a million dollars of investment raised for Phonely. Only 3% of the top startup companies are accepted into the program. They will receive coaching from the best entrepreneurs and successful business owners worldwide. 

When is the right time to start a business?

Most entrepreneurs find the starting point the hardest. Not knowing what step to take first is confusing and uncertain. 

But for those who are willing to work hard, 80 hours a week, Bodewes says it’s best just to start. “There’s nobody who’s ever going to tell you that it’s the right time to start a business.”  

Only a little of the endurance race of a new company is documented. Bodewes can attest to this. “It’s just pretty hard, and you don’t know what to do most of the time.” 

No “playbook” or blueprint can be applied to get a startup off the ground. “Startups are interesting because there is no tried and tested business model people have used before. We have to create and find some new innovative ways.”

Bodewes acknowledges that every company, like his three startups, has unique problems that no one can prepare you for. “There is no person that solved this problem that you’re trying to solve before. You can’t look it up on the internet.”

How do you get through the first few hurdles? “It requires a lot of creative thinking. It’s stuff that I enjoy doing, but it’s definitely not easy work,” advises Bodewes. 

Three steps to start a business

  1. Just start: “It’s like something you feel like you have to do because you believe in it. Then just go start.”

  1. Mute the doomsayers: “Everyone is going to tell you… ‘You are crazy, so you shouldn’t do this.’ But my advice is, there’s no wrong way to start.”

  1. Failure is part of the journey: “I would never have been in this position had I not started the first company, and that failed, and the second one… not doing too great.”

Has Australia limited startup funding? 

Locals have raised questions following the news of Bodewes leaving for Silicon Valley instead of finding support in Australia to keep the idea locally. “In the space that we’re in with AI, Silicon Valley is really the hub of the world,” says Bodewes. 

He believes the opportunity for AI development would be far greater. “That’s where a lot of the change is being driven in the specific industry that we’re in.” Bodewes believes there is “definitely more capital over in the US.

ALSO READ: Expert tips for startups: Navigating the first five years

According to a report by Statista 72% of startups in Australia are self-funded. Additionally, 34% of startups borrow money from family or friends, and only 19% start with accelerator or incubator investment.

Investors have a strong appetite for AI, climate technology, clean technology, and big data startups. 

One of the best startup programs accessible to Australians is Startmate. They’ve backed over 170 companies and raised over $5 million annually. Its cumulative portfolio companies are worth $2 billion.

NOW READ: AI helps customers to ‘buy faster online,’ helping e-commerce owners

Photo credit: Will Bodewes website

About the author

Mia is a multi-award-winning journalist. She has more than 14 years of experience in mainstream media. She's covered many historic moments that happened in Africa and internationally. She has a strong focus on human interest stories, to bring her readers and viewers closer to the topics at hand.

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