Interview with Elliot Lee

Elliot completed internships with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Google, before graduating from USC with a degree in Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Magna Cum Laude. He has created and published a dozen iPhone apps on the App Store, which together have been downloaded over 5 million times. Two of his apps have ranked #2 overall in the list of Top Free Apps.

When did you decide that you wanted to become an entrepreneur?

My first entrepreneurial venture was when I published my first website at the age of eight. I remember my cousin asking me if I wanted to be like Bill Gates. At that time, I had never heard of Bill Gates. My cousin was shocked to hear that I didn’t know who he was. That led me to look up who Bill Gates is, and he was an early inspiration to me.

How did you know your business idea was the right idea?

I was attracted to the iPhone from the moment Steve Jobs announced it in early 2007. I could see that it was going to be a revolution in smartphones. I picked up an iPhone on launch day, and it didn’t disappoint. When Apple launched in App Store in 2008, my experience with using the iPhone convinced me that it was many years ahead of anything else on the market.

What was the most difficult part in getting started?

Programming the iPhone is a constant challenge, but I get a tremendous sense of satisfaction when I finally understand it and manage to implement my ideas.

What is the top skill (or skills) needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

For a technical entrepreneur in the technology industry, I believe that technical expertise is a huge benefit. I think that anyone can learn how to program, if he has enough motivation and access to the right instruction.

What motivates you and/or keeps you motivated?

My users. I receive emails on a daily basis from users who tell me how awesome my apps are, or about the amazing ways that they’re using my apps.

What do you think is the major difference between entrepreneurs and those who work for someone else?

Entrepeneurs must focus on what adds value for their customers. Those who work for someone else must focus on what adds value for their boss. Entrepreneurs must be self-driven, ridiculously persistent, and incredibly hard working.

What has been one of your failures, and what have you learned from it?

One of my early websites was called GizmoBytes, a website that reviewed gadgets and gizmos. It was initially astoundingly successful, but subsequent radical changes inadvertently stripped it of its core following, and the site died a premature death. I have learned to carefully analyze changes to ensure that they are a move in the right direction. Change can be bad if it’s the wrong change.

Henry Ford once said that "A market is never saturated with a good product, but it is very quickly saturated with a bad one." What are your thoughts on that quote?

There is a large need for better products in the market. People’s desires will never be fully met, and making people’s lives easier, more fun, or more effective is the ultimate goal of my mobile apps.

Walt Disney once said that "The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing." What are your thoughts on that quote?

Many of my friends enjoy talking about ideas, and so do I. It’s easy to talk about how doable something is. It’s easy to justify play by saying that it’s preparation for work. But real work is only accomplished when you finally hunker down and get to it. Talk is cheap. I’ve succeeded because, as an introvert, talking actually doesn’t come naturally to me. Instead, I use my time to begin (and continue) doing.

Zig Ziglar once said "If you don't see yourself as a winner, then you cannot perform as a winner." What are your thoughts on that quote?

People tend to rise to meet expectations. If great things are expected of me, then I am more likely to produce great things. That’s why I set very high expectations and extraordinarily high standards for myself and my work. I try not to settle for anything less, which results in stellar finished products.

What was the most crucial thing you have done to grow your business?

Jump into the market early, with an effective app that does one thing very well. There’s something to be said for being first, but that needs to be combined with strong and focused execution.

What advice would you give an entrepreneur who is just starting out?

Ask others for help. Others have been there and done that, and some of them are more than happy to share. Also, be persistent. If you don’t understand something, work harder at it, and stay focused. Kill distractions as soon as you realize what they are. Today’s attention-poor culture is disturbingly effective at stomping out the kind of deep contemplation that results in flashes of innovative insight. Cultivate your taste for products that people want. Then, make something that people want.

Company Description:

Greengar Studios creates simple, fun, and useful iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad apps. Its most popular app is Whiteboard: Collaborative Drawing, which supports peer-to-peer wireless networking. Greengar is also known for Brain Tuner, a math game which exercises the brain, and Flashlight 4: LED Flashlight for iPhone 4.



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