Today is my 43rd birthday. As I think about the last year, my good friend and CEO coach, Kirk Dando, comes to mind. On page 141 of his excellent book Predictive Leadership, Kirk writes:
Life is like a record album, composed of songs to form the whole. From age 24 to 40, I had been playing the song "entrepreneur". I set a goal when I was 25 to one day found a tech company and take it public - by the time I was 40. Fifteen years later, I achieved that goal (my ultimate BHAG - "Big Hairy Audacious Goal"). Society didn't know about this very personal BHAG (only a few friends, my parents, and my wife did), and they expected me to keep playing the same song over and over again. This was natural, expected even. But as I wrote about in my "time is money or is money time" post, I was determined to step back and think deeply about my next move post being the CEO of Bazaarvoice. I didn't want to just set the same goal all over again (i.e., "now I'll found a sixth company and take it public again"). I knew I wanted to help entrepreneurs - I had always enjoyed doing so while I was at Bazaarvoice or Coremetrics but I had done so very sparingly due to the time constraints that I had (managing high-growth ventures takes a lot of time). I had love in my heart for Austin and thought I should do my part, along with many others like Josh Baer of Capital Factory, to help our scene evolve. So I jumped into that part of the arena - but in a more "grandfatherly" role as opposed to being the actual "man in the arena" (a nod to Theodore Roosevelt's powerful speech in 1910). As far as becoming an entrepreneur again and going back to that song, I had to think very deeply about it.
Today is my 43rd birthday (you can read about what I learned over the past year inmy Lucky7 post about age 42). Looking back on my last year, I've grown to really love angel investing. My wife, Debra, and I run a family office that we call Hurt Family Investments. She takes the lead on philanthropic projects, and I take the lead on startup investing. For the past two years, we've invested the same financial amount in non-profits as we have in startups. We always agree on what to invest in - she has to meet the entrepreneurs before we make a decision - and that leverages the best of both of us. Debra is a contrarian thinker and was also born to entrepreneur parents. We both learned a lot about entrepreneurship growing up, and we actually started Coremetrics, my fourth business, together. She has terrific entrepreneurial instincts and there are a number of companies that I haven't started because I listened to her (thankfully), when I was playing the song "entrepreneur" on my record of life. Now, we are involved in 34 startups (mostly in Austin) and multiple VC funds that give us exposure to at least as many additional startups (you can see our portfolio here).
This is part one of a three-part series on entrepreneurship. The parts:
- 'Is it too late for me to start my own business?', and other sheepish questions
- Who this new generation of aspiring entrepreneurs are and the new Golden Age of tech (Lucky7 post)
- How I define the soul of entrepreneurs: you change the world (Lucky7 post)
It's March of 2013 and I'm at Wharton serving as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence when I get a question that baffles me. I'm speaking at the Penn Founders' Club, where all University of Pennsylvania students are welcome as long as they are fervently working on a real business while they are in school. I've just wrapped up my opening comments and it is time for Q&A. The baffling question: "Have all of the really big ideas already been thought of?". I couldn't believe it when I could see the student was being serious and not just pulling my leg, and I was fired up. I passionately describe how the world always needs entrepreneurs to drive it forward, and there are always ideas - everywhere - if you just look hard to find them. I talk about how I just read the book Abundance, wrote the longest book review of my life on it at Lucky7, and there are thousands of great ideas in the book for entrepreneurs to solve the world's biggest problems. A few months later, Waze gets bought for $966 million by Google. A few months after that, Snapchat gets a rumored $3 billion offer from Facebook, which I wrote about in this Lucky7 post on valuations. And then almost a year after receiving that question at Penn, WhatsApp gets a firm acquisition offer of $19 billion from Facebook, one month after Google buys Nest for $3.2 billion.
Last week was one of the toughest I’ve had. But the struggle was worth it. In Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he outlines how one’s search for meaning – when conducted authentically – is very hard.
I’m writing to tell you that I’ve decided not to continue to pursue Hurt+Harbach. Please let me be very clear up front on several things:
Last Monday, I had the honor of keynoting the Texas MBA Class of 2015 Orientation. This is the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin's largest class to date - I believe around 270 students. Around 80 spouses were also present. Tina Mabley, Assistant Dean of the Full-time MBA Program, introduced me. She introduced me as the Vice Chairman and Co-founder of Bazaarvoice and also as the incoming Entrepreneur-in-Residence at McCombs, a position I'm glad to begin in September. My grandfather, James Mann Hurt, taught at U.T. Austin for his entire career and I'm proud to follow in his footsteps. I promised the students I would post my speech, complete with links, and that is what follows here:
This 1.5-minute long interview with Steve Jobs from 1994 has been floating around the Web recently and I love it. It is a philosophy that a good friend, Auren Hoffman (a serial entrepreneur himself), taught me when I was 26 and he was 24. I was lucky to have Auren as a neighbor when he was the founder and CEO of BridgePath and his office was right next door to mine at Coremetrics when Debra and I lived in San Francisco (Auren still lives there and has greatly prospered). Auren had a very popular lunch club for the Silicon Valley elite. There was always a compelling speaker, like the CEO of Exodus back when Exodus was a big deal. He invited me to attend with him, and I think the two of us were the most junior entrepreneurs there. So after attending several of these and being amazed at the networking opportunities each time, I asked Auren over lunch one day, "how the heck do you do it?". He told me about how he was fearless to reach out to anyone - but he did it in a particular way. Instead of approach them with the typical, "I'm a young guy and would like to learn from you", he would approach them with a very informed perspective and opinion about their business, something they said, an organization they are involved with, etc. This required more research, but it was very effective. It worked because of Auren's passion and genuine desire to connect and not waste the other person's time. So it wasn't just a little bit of research - it was an authentic interest in what he had learned about that person and their business. In other words, it wasn't a "cursory" or "shallow" amount of research. And it is the same reason why Bill Hewlett took the time to spend with Steve Jobs when he was only 12, as he talks about in this interview. How many other 12-year olds do this? Very, very, very few.
SXSW has long come and gone in this beautiful city - that was, like, weeks ago! Like years past, it reached more epic heights this year and companies and investors were spending more on gaining attention than ever before. And with SXSW, the typical, "how is Austin doing at tech entrepreneurship?" question was asked again and again. But out of all of the articles written, the one that I personally heard the most about was this one by PandoDaily: "Will the Austin startup ecosystem ever live up to its promise?"". It stirred me up to read it, no doubt. And it lead me to write this post to share my own thoughts - as an insider - on the state of tech entrepreneurship in Austin.
I had the pleasure of visiting The Wharton School recently as a returning Entrepreneur-in-Residence. I found myself more encouraged than ever about the student body and their desire to be entrepreneurs. When I earned my MBA at Wharton, from 1997-1999, I was a bit of an outlier as an entrepreneur in a class of almost all aspiring consultants and bankers. In my class, there were a few entrepreneurs, such as John Lusk and Kyle Harrison, the co-founders of MouseDriver (I recommend reading their book on the experience), and Gregg Spiridellis, the co-founder and CEO of JibJab. John is at it again with Rivet & Sway and Gregg is still running JibJab, an unusually long tenure for any Wharton graduate in my class. Gregg is my most humorous friend and his talent has shown in so many ways at JibJab. But, at Wharton, I was even more strange than John, Kyle, and Gregg. And that is because I was founding and running businesses while I was still in school.
I often get asked by entrepreneurs, "what is the most important thing that I can do to build a great culture?". My answer, "recruiting". Recruiting has to be a top-three priority for any CEO, for any size organization. But as a startup, it is the difference between life and death.
When Brant and I started Bazaarvoice, we wanted to get the team right from the beginning. We were obessive about that, and it paid huge dividends later on. If there was ever a secret to Bazaarvoice's success in those early days, both culturally and performance wise, it was that we obsessed about recruiting and also constantly debated how we would create a great culture (more on this second point in a later post). Brant and I came up with a process for recruiting that was so obvious in hindsight but yet is so rarely done.