Pierre duPont ’82 is a partner and financial advisor at HPM Partners LLC. duPont sat down with us to share more about his experiences as an entrepreneur and what professional expertise he brings to OfficeHours in the City, Princeton Entrepreneurship Council’s mentoring program for entrepreneurs.
duPont graduated from Princeton University in 1982 with a degree in Computer Science. He spent his first seven years out of college as a programmer, but realized that younger folks would surpass his technical capabilities and moved over to management. In 1989, duPont embarked on his first entrepreneurial endeavor by starting a computer graphics software company with four others. duPont and his associates took the company public in 1993 and in 1997, it was acquired by Hewlett-Packard.
As any entrepreneur can attest, reward doesn’t always accompany risk. “I started another company in 1997, and it was a complete and utter flop,” duPont said. duPont started a new software company in 1999, but failed to take the company public in summer 2001 because the markets were crashing. These setbacks, however, proved to be invaluable learning experiences. “Over these many years, I’ve learned a fair bit about how you finance a small company, and what a new company ought to do to find early adopters, key hires and angel investors,” duPont said.
duPont is eager to share his entrepreneurial insights and experience with OfficeHours participants. “I will be very honest and open about the challenges you’ll face starting a company, and maybe identify some challenges you haven’t thought about and help you find ways to address them,” duPont said. “You really have to have your eyes wide open when you start a company.”
duPont shared some advice for early stage startups: “The best way to raise money is when you don’t need to raise money, when your business is self-sustaining,” duPont said. “It’s better to start off with something small where you can continue to operate without needing more money.” In duPont’s view, realistic expectations are also imperative. “Getting a hundred-million-dollar valuation and an IPO are the wrong things to strive for. Sure, you need to have a vision, you need to want to go somewhere worth going, but it’s more important to have a minimal viable business that generates revenue and is growing – that’s the best way to find the capital to finance more growth,” duPont said.
So how can duPont help aspiring entrepreneurs? “Your early team is very important, and I like to think I can help you find and engage the right people.” duPont also reiterated the importance of getting an early mockup or prototype to find early adopters, because “it’s nearly impossible to find someone to fund an idea without evidence of demand.” duPont can help identify things you need to show about your company to raise money, and how you might go about finding and pitching to angel investors.
“As you begin to grow a little further, I can help you figure out how to ramp up adoption, expand your product and do it in a way that will most motivate the institutional money you’ll need eventually, from venture capitalists or maybe first from larger angel groups,” duPont said. duPont can also advise as you expand your team, and help you be strategic about where you invest your time and money.
To make an appointment with duPont, or find another alumni mentor that matches your needs, visit entrepeneurs.princeton.edu/officehours today!