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The ‘rollercoaster’ of startup life, Waze, cybersecurity and Elon Musk

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By Nancy Dahlberg / ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

Chances are you will use Waze today.

“Everything on the app was created by the driver,” said Uri Levine, co-founder of Wave, to a full house at eMerge Americas on Tuesday. “It’s a social network for driving. We the drivers help other drivers avoid the traffic jams we are in. This is the magic of Waze.”

Levine kicked off Day 2 of eMerge Americas, the homegrown technology conference at the Miami Beach Convention Center. His keynote talk about the Waze journey and the startups he is building now was full of advice for the rollercoaster ride that is startup life.

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The entrepreneur he admires most? “Elon Musk is the most amazing person on the planet.”

Launching a startup is like falling in love, he said, but “fall in love with the problem you are solving, not your solution.” Focus is key too; if you lose focus of the central problem you are solving, you won’t be building the right thing. Timing helps: Waze started on a PDA – remember those – but the smartphone enabled scale.

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On startups that fail, he often hears “the team was not right.” But digging deeper, he finds that the team was not right from the first month and the CEO did not make the tough decisions.

Still, startup life is learning from failures, large and small, and second-time entrepreneurs are five times more likely to succeed than first-timers, he said. And “if startups are a rollercoaster, fund-raising is a rollercoaster in the dark – you never know what’s coming.”

He also said while he admires Snapchat and its brethren and the businesses they have built, if he had been presented with the opportunity early on, he would have missed it. “There was no problem. There is enough for me to do to solve problems.”

Startups he is involved in now include Moovit, like Waze but for public transit and it is growing faster than Waze did, he said; Engine, technology that runs ongoing diagnostics on your car and gets the quotes for you, and Solomoto, an all-in-one platform for small businesses that is expanding in the U.S. from Miami.

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Among his startups that failed was a group-buying platform. “The underlying assumption that people know what they want [to buy] was wrong.”

What was his best startup? “The next one.” His advice for what Miami entrepreneurs should try to solve? Why does healthcare cost five times as much in the U.S.? Solve that, Levine told the crowd.

Talk about big problems that need to solved and cybersecurity has to be near the top. Wannacry was a wakeup call, and cybersecurity was a hot theme of morning and afternoon talks and Manny Medina’s keynote address on Tuesday. He introduced Cyxtera Technologies, his latest venture. Cyxtera, “a giant startup,” combines 57 data centers and four cybersecurity and data analytics companies out of the gate. Medina said it already serves 3,500 customers and has 1,100 employees, including about 500 cybersecurity and data experts.

“We believe the next revolution is the era of cybersecurity. We believe security has to be adaptive and intelligent ... but also made for the cloud,” said Medina. “This is a giant opportunity and we are in the forefront and it will be based in Miami.”

READ MORE: Done deal: Medina Capital, BC Partners form Cyxtera Technologies in $2.8 billion transaction

eMerge Americas continues Tuesday with a startup competition with $175,000 in prizes, the WIT (Women, Innovation & Technology) Summit, and keynotes by Magic Leap’s Rony Abovitz and a closing talk with baseball legend and businessman Alex Rodriguez.

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

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