Joshua Baer is the founder and executive director of Capital Factory, a technology startup incubator and coworking space.
Capital Factory’s 55,000-square-foot headquarters in downtown Austin hosted 32,000 entrepreneurs, programmers and designers at more than 700 events, meetups and classes in 2014. The incubator also welcomed President Barack Obama, who toured the facility in 2013.
Through his work at Capital Factory, Baer is an entrepreneur who helps other entrepreneurs.
“It’s the little wins that still get me excited,” he said. “It’s like when I helped one of my companies recruit an awesome chief technology officer ... it’s not like I made the company. I didn’t make the CTO, but I made the introduction, and I helped convince them to go do it. If I wasn’t there, it probably wouldn’t have happened. That’s really rewarding.”
What motivated you to become an entrepreneur?
Not surprisingly I look back at my family, and I am completely surrounded by entrepreneurs. ... So while I think that may have affected my personality a little bit, I think the biggest thing it did is it made [being an entrepreneur] very accessible and possible.
So I think that was one really big part of it, and then I’m not a very good employee. I just saw pretty early on that I really enjoy being in a leadership role.
What are you looking for when you’re looking to invest?
My sweet spot is technology and software businesses. That’s what I know about. That’s what I’ve started and worked with. There are so many of them out there all over the world, and it’s [now] much easier to reach people all over the world.
I’ve had to really define, ‘What is it that I do?’ In some ways [it is easier to define what I do not do].
For me I have two hashtags for investing. Those are #email and #Austin. I’ve started three email companies. So if you’re an email company then I don’t care where you are, I can help you. ... With Austin, I don’t care what you do. I can help. Because of what we’ve built at Capital Factory and because of this great network of investors, mentors and talent and a bunch of other things to help, those are my two pieces.
How prepared should someone be with their idea or inspiration to know they are in a good place to quit their job?
I teach an entrepreneurship class at [The University of Texas], and one of my students asked this question.
They’re asking, ‘When I graduate, how do I know if I should actually do it or go get a job somewhere?’ I think—and this is nothing scientific—but on some level I meet people and there are some people who look at the situation and [either] see an opportunity or a problem, and they see a million things to do.
They may not know which [thing] is most important or which they need to do next, but they’re like, ‘I need to do this, and I need to do this.’
They should just quit their job and go do it. ... So you meet someone, and they’re ready. You can’t stop them at that point. It’s kind of like, I don’t know if you’ve ever been in love, but when you know, you know. If you have to ask the question then you’re not.
How many times do you have to fail before you’re successful, in your experience?
Keep failing until you’re successful. People ask, ‘How’s that company going?’ On some level it’s like, ‘Well they haven’t failed yet. They’re still going.’
When is it a success? When did you make it? Sometimes you don’t really know that for a really long time. I’ve been involved in starting a half dozen very successful businesses, and I’m sure that I’ve started a half-dozen projects that … didn’t work.
Austin startups get a lot of attention, but do you see innovation coming from other communities such as Pflugerville, San Marcos or Round Rock?
I don’t discriminate. I think of Austin very broadly. I think of the whole region or the whole area.
We’re looking at Capital Factory for ways we can do a better job of serving the whole region.