Alexander Asseily has gone from being born in a war zone to creating breakthrough technologies that we use every day. The companies he’s been involved in have raised over $1B in capital, and he’s not done yet.
On the Dealmakers Podcast Asseily talked about his youth giving him a sense of urgency to fix the world, how engineering thinking and design thinking became tools for entrepreneurship, raising hundreds of millions of dollars for startups, investing, the one thing that defines breakthrough companies and products, what you must have to build anything of substance, and the most important early hires your startup should be making.
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Engineering Thinking & Breakthrough Ideas
Alexander Asseily was born the year the war broke out in Beirut. Although his parents were able to keep him safe, he still remembers sandbags and tanks on the streets, and having to hide in basements when bombs were going off.
As with most wars, what everyone thought was going to be a couple month ordeal ended up lasting for six or seven years.
Ultimately his parents found them a way out, and they moved to London where Alexander continued his schooling.
Often when you are born into circumstances like these you don’t know any different. Though Asseily says that it certainly impregnated him with a deep sense of urgency to fix things in the world.
He says that he has always enjoyed fixing things. Though initially misunderstood what engineering was all about, and resisted it. However, after exploring art and design, he began to recognize how physics and math were great enablers for the things he wanted to do and accomplish.
Once he realized the capabilities of engineering thinking and design thinking, they became tools for building products and companies.
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Going To Stanford, California
While the UK is well known for its higher education institutions, he found them a little limiting and too traditional for what he wanted to do. So, he set off for California and Stanford, where he saw a land where you could be more bold about sharing your big ideas.
While he found that, he still says that some of his ideas were too far out there, even for some people in Silicon Valley. Or were at least too far ahead of their time.
However, he also notes that breakthrough companies and products are defined by the fact that no one else believes in them at the outset. If everyone believes in it, then it can’t be a breakthrough. It’s obvious and too late at that point.
For those working on new cutting edge things of their own, he says to “just keep going. Not because perseverance for its own sake is worth it, but because you believe that there’s a real opportunity that only you are able to see.”
There is some maturity and wisdom to be gained along the way. Especially in acknowledging when something just isn’t going to work, when it is time to move on, or when the timing just isn’t right. Otherwise, just keep going. Even through the darkest days, when you are eating fried rice for the tenth week in a row.
When you have a truly great idea it is going to be common that the investors you pitch and the friends you share it with are going to doubt it, think it’s crazy, not possible, or someone bigger will win at it. Though Alexander’s resume certainly shows that it is possible to do huge things when you persevere through it all. Trust your instincts, and keep putting one foot in front of the other, step by step.
Proving Your Instincts Are Right
When you are working on breakthroughs, you may have to grind it out for a while to prove your thesis before everyone gets it, and then is begging to get onboard.
Asseily certainly found this with his first venture, Jawbone. He started out seeing the future was mobile, and the desire for wearable devices. Then created and patented much of the technology we use in this space every day. It eventually made it into Airpods, and Google and Samsung headsets.
However, when he was starting out, while big companies like Nokia and Motorola liked and wanted it, they didn’t want to pay for it. Much like now, the venture capital market had contracted as well.
So instead of just licensing their technology, they had to build out the physical products, and sell them. Which turned into the popular Jawbone brand. As well as things like the first wrist worn fitness trackers.
Once they nailed product market fit, they were inundated with business. Within six to 12 months they were shipping 10,000 to 20,000 units a month, with 50% profit margins.
Then of course the investors flocked in. Helping them raise over $80M in capital from investors like Sequoia and Andreessen Horowitz, as well as BlackRock.
Asseily went on to dive into more ventures, including supporting Pax and Juul in their early years as a board member. Some were big hits, others were ahead of their time. He has also advised and invested in other startups.
Recently he served as Vice Chair of Lilium, where he was an early investor, a German aerospace company which is developing electric jets, capable of vertical take off and landing. For which he’s already helped raise $700M in funding.
Storytelling is everything which is something that Alexander Asseily was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here), where the most critical slides are highlighted.
Remember to unlock the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- Timing and your startup
- Investing in and advising startups
- Knowing when to walk away as a founder
- More groundbreaking technologies Alexander has been involved in