Learnings from three entrepreneurs and one VC I interviewed this past semester

I joined the McCombs Business School at the University of Texas at Austin as Entrepreneur-in-Residence this past semester. I kicked it off with a speech to the entering MBA class about the top-ten lessons I wished someone had taught me when I was beginning my MBA. I have very much enjoyed my first semester in this capacity and the entrepreneurial energy on campus is really fantastic. There is no doubt a huge trend towards entrepreneurship at most top-ranked universities and U.T. Austin is leading the way in one of the most entrepreneurial cities and states in our nation. Consider that Texas has created 70% of the new jobs in the U.S. since 2005, as reported by BBVA Compass, and you start to tune in a bit more into what is happening here. Compared to when I attended U.T. Austin from 1990-1994, where entrepreneurship was hard to find, every major college at U.T. now has its own entrepreneurial club and initiatives. In my Office Hours, I have met with over a hundred students who have either launched their own business while at the University or they are actively planning on doing that at some early point in their career (I didn't become an entrepreneur myself until I was 24 and beginning my MBA, so I tell them I was a "late bloomer").

As part of my EIR post, I have continued the Speaker Series that Laura Kilcrease began as my predecessor. To that end, I interviewed three entrepreneurs and one VC that I think you would be interested in learning from as we begin 2014. All of these interviews are recorded, and I should thank the Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship for the funding to do this and promote entrepreneurship all over U.T. Austin.

The first was Josh Baer, founder of Capital Factory, which has become a huge entrepreneurial force for Austin as our largest tech incubator. Among other accomplishments for Capital Factory this year - which are many - Josh Baer coordinated a visit by President Obama and US CTO Todd Park to kick off their "Jobs & Opportunity Tour" (I wrote about this milestone for Austin in this Lucky7 post). Josh's main message in our interview was how important it is for serious student entrepreneurs to get started now, while they have no financial encumberences and so many resources available to them at U.T. He gives a lot of tips on how to do so. You can also learn a lot from his own entrepreneurial experience, which we talk about extensively in the interview.

The second was Cotter Cunningham, who led RetailMeNot to Austin's most successful IPO and follow-on offering of 2013. As of this writing, RetailMeNot is worth close to $1.5 billion and it is only four years old. Unlike the romantic notions that most have of entrepreneurs being young and college dropouts, Cotter Cunningham is the opposite of that. He didn't start his first business until he was 46-years old, and it failed, and then he quickly pivoted to found RetailMeNot, with the help of Austin Ventures, and the rest is history. In our interview, he talks about how his extensive operational experience gave him a big edge. He also speaks about company culture and staying humble.

The third was Chris Pacitti of Austin Ventures, our largest VC in town. Chris has been on the Board of Bazaarvoice alongside me since the company was around five months old. Anyone considering being a VC should watch this interview. Like any job, it isn't as glamorous as you may idealistically think. I spent 10 months there myself and it was a very eye-opening experience (even I was idealistic about what VC really was). We get into the nuts and bolts of it, and I believe this was the first talk Austin Ventures has given at U.T. Austin in years. Even though I know Chris well, I didn't know about his own entrepreneurial background - which led to him becoming a VC - and we dive into that too.

The fourth was John Arrow, Chairman of Mutual Mobile. Like Michael Dell, John dropped out of U.T. Austin but with only one course credit to go. He has built one of the largest service businesses in Austin, proving that you can also become successful that way (I wrote about product vs. service companies in my "State of tech entrepreneurship in Austin" post). John has a really interesting background and started practicing entrepreneurship younger than anyone mentioned in this post, including me. We talk about his decision to become Chairman vs. his previous post of CEO and a lot of other topics about the journey along the way. We also really dig into mobile trends, including Snapchat (I shared a lot of thoughts that my friends and I had on Snapchat in this Lucky7 post).

I'm looking forward to another great semester at U.T. Austin, and I hope you enjoy watching these interviews as much as I enjoyed doing them. We are fortunate to have Josh Baer, Cotter Cunningham, Chris Pacitti, and John Arrow in our great city. Happy New Year, and I hope 2014 is very prosperous for you and your family.