Ned Lerner is the CEO Of Hearo.Live. Hearo.Live’s Venue as a Service (VaaS) turns media time into friends time and websites into live venues. With a tap or click online sports, shows, classes and events can feel like you’re there.
Since the age of sixteen, Ned built companies and teams from scratch to hundreds of people.
He has worked on over $5B of original, award-winning games including Chuck Yeager (’87), System Shock (’94), Sims2 (’04) and over one hundred PlayStation games (’05-‘17)
He has founded Multitude, Inc. Made Fireteam, one of the first MOBAs, a LoL precursor, Firetalk, Inc. Made Firetalk, which is one of the first Internet conferencing services, a Skype precursor.
His products have been featured on The Today Show, the Superbowl pregame show, Good Morning America, New York Times, BusinessWeek, and has filed dozens of patents for inventions in payments, 3D, video, social, communications, multiplayer gaming, networking, messaging, CRM.
In an exclusive interview with AsiaTechDaily, Ned says:
The worst advice is that the journey is the reward. It is not! Climbing a mountain is the journey, but no one climbs a peak to fall off and die (what happens to most startups). The best advice is that the journey is the reward. Pick something you love. If you want to succeed, you’ll take risks and learn with every success or failure. But be careful where you step!
More recently, I’ve become a marathon runner if you don’t want to die of stress in a startup, run marathons.
Read on to know more about Ned Lerner and his journey.
Please tell me about your personal background, and what are you working on currently?
Ned Lerner: I’ve been making games forever. I wrote the game that Electronic Arts based its IPO on, Chuck Yeager’s Advanced Flight Trainer. I started by playing games, then making games, then making game companies, and now making new media platforms. From 2003-2017 I worked at Sony Playstation, where my team did a lot of heavy lifting on the PS4. Now I’m the CEO of Hearo.Live. Hearo lets you connect with friends, watching esports, streams, and TV.
What motivated you to get started with your company?
Ned Lerner: We all need human connection, especially in this time of social distancing. We used to call our friends. Now we text or post, and our phone is used for everything except talking. TVs used to be our electronic fireplaces. We’d gather around, talk, and watch. Now we watch apart, each on our own screen. Our connected devices are disconnecting us except games. Gamers have figured out how to connect. They put on a headset and talk and play games like Call of Duty, League of Legends, and every eSports match. But even the 2 billion gamers aren’t always gaming. How do we connect with our friends when we’re not playing together? That’s what inspired Hearo.Live.
What is your current main product, and (If there is any) can you share any product pivot story from founding to the current product?
Ned Lerner: Hearo.Live is a Venue as a Service, from a small (virtual) venue to watch your favorites with your friends, to giant (virtual) arenas to watch esports and sports or participate in large scale events. With just a tap, you can talk and watch with your family and friends anywhere, like gamers speak and play. The pandemic has put a massive spotlight on this problem, where it’s impossible to bring everyone together to watch what’s on the screen, stage, or field.
Hearo is a pivot. We started with a more social version of Snapchat stories but had to dig deeper when Instagram stories came out. I’m glad we did.
How much money (funding) have you raised in total so far? When was the recent funding round?
Ned Lerner: We raised $1.8M in our seed round last year.
How have you attracted users and grown your company from the start? And Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?
Ned Lerner: We’re growing like crazy, 100% organically. We invited some beta testers at the start, and they’ve stuck around and are driving growth. I didn’t know that could happen. When we start marketing, we’ll be working closely with influencers, who are also our business partners. We’re a platform for them too.
Which is the best marketing tool for the growth of your startup, and why?
Ned Lerner: We love working with streamers and influencers. They can show their fans exactly how to use Hearo, and how simple and fun it is, and we help them really connect with and own their audience.
What do most startups get wrong about marketing in general?
Ned Lerner: Too often, marketing starts too early, before the product has a market. This is the nature of the startup game – you need a pile of luck to get something worthy of marketing before you run out of time and money.
What were the internal decision processes in determining when to begin fundraising, and what were the logistics for this? And how many investors have you met so far, and how did you meet these investors and which channels worked best for you?
Ned Lerner: Our logic has been simple. We run as lean as possible and raise money as we need it. At each step, fundraising becomes easier. Like any other sales process, the goal is qualified leads. We don’t want to waste our time or theirs, so quantity is the wrong metric.
Since Hearo.Live is building the future of entertainment (a $2 trillion/year, 10 billion hours/day business), we seek out investors who believe in our vision, that media consumption is changing from alone/solo to together/multiplayer.
It’s easier to fundraise (pre-market validation) for something obvious, like replacing jobs with AIs, then something that can only be proven when a million people are doing it. Thankfully we are seeing incredible viral growth now.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles in the process of fundraising? If you had to start over, what would you do differently? (Your insight or advice on this would be very helpful for startups)
Ned Lerner: Every startup needs to solve the chicken and egg problem. How do you raise capital to do something very risky before you prove it’s worthy? There are two typical solutions.
- Have some rich friends.
- Do something ‘hot.’
If I’d realized how hard it would be to fundraise I probably wouldn’t have quit my fantastic job. Oops!
What are your milestones for the next round? And what are your goals for the future?
Ned Lerner: We need 100,000 MAU. At our present rate of growth, that’s a few months away. Our long term goal is to be the place people go when they are looking for something to do, or are looking for like-minded folks to do their favorite things with them. The future isn’t social isolation. It’s a social connection.
How do you plan to expand globally?
Ned Lerner: Cost efficiently by leveraging local partners. Thankfully we are building something that has universal appeal – doing things together.
What are the most common mistakes companies make with global marketing?
Ned Lerner: US companies are too US-focused. The best opportunities are outside the USA. Silicon Valley is still the best place to raise money, but it’s not the best place to spend it.
What are the most common mistakes founders make when they start a company? (or What should all first-time startup founders know before they start their business?)
Ned Lerner: They should master people and project management, HR, business development, product development, sales, marketing, legal, operations, accounting, investor relationship everything to run a business. So I guess you should start your first startup when you’re 50.
Failing that, realize that first-time startups are the equivalent of playing college soccer. The news loves the top 0.1% of startups – the pro ballers. They ignore 95% of startups, all the ones that never go anywhere. So have fun, learn a lot, but be prepared for the biggest struggle of your life. Maybe your second or third startup will succeed. The odds get better each time.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? And What advice do you have for someone who is interested in doing similar things like yours or in a similar direction?
Ned Lerner: The worst advice is that the journey is the reward. It is not! Climbing a mountain is the journey, but no one climbs a peak to fall off and die (what happens to most startups). The best advice is that the journey is the reward. Pick something you love. If you want to succeed, you’ll take risks and learn with every success or failure. But be careful where you step!
What are the one or two things that you would do differently to improve your life (or what kind of personal habits would you improve?) if you could go back to 10 years ago?
Ned Lerner: I set my work habits a long time ago when I started writing games. I love what I do, so most of the time, it’s my obsession/passion. Thankfully my wife makes sure I don’t kill myself with work, so that’s good too. More recently, I’ve become a marathon runner if you don’t want to die of stress in a startup, run marathons.
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