It was an honor on Saturday to be the commencement speaker for the Class of 2015 MSTC (Masters of Science in Technology Commercialization) graduates at the University of Texas at Austin. One of the graduates, Rainya Mosher was kind enough to summarize her takeaways from my speech in her blog post and the full text of the speech follows:
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.
We live in very interesting times. It's 2010 and I'm at a family reunion. We've just barely survived the most cataclysmic global financial crisis in the modern history and one of my cousins asks me, "How can tech be doing so well while the rest of the economy is doing so poorly?". I did my best to answer but the question kept eating at me. I remembered Michael Porter's Harvard Business Review article about the Internet being the sixth force - and how it would disrupt all of the previous five forces cited in his famous strategic model.
Fast forward just four years later and a five-year old company, WhatsApp, is bought for $19 billion by Facebook, a company that itself is only ten-years old at the time but worth a mighty $170 billion. Just two years earlier, when Facebook went public, the media was asking for Morgan Stanley's head - and sometimes Mark Zuckerberg's or David Ebersman's (CFO of Facebook) head - for what was perceived at that time as an overpriced IPO. Except that it wasn't... and any investors that held on to their IPO stock should now be very happy campers.
For all of us Austin fans, I'm talking about Cotter Cunningham, the founder and CEO of RetailMeNot. Last night, Cotter was one of our keynote speakers, along with Mark Cuban, at the University of Texas for Longhorn Startup Demo Day (the event was just fantastic, by the way, and Josh Baer, Ben Dyer, and Bob Metcalfe deserve a huge round of applause for it).
As of today, RetailMeNot is worth $1.33 billion as a public company (it went public in July and just filed for a follow-on offering). It is just four years old - for a value creation of $333 million per year. Who says Austin can't do B2C now? HomeAway is another one of our five tech IPOs in the last five years. It is worth $3.4 billion today as a public company (it went public in 2011). It is just nine years old. Yes, we haven't produced a Facebook or Twitter size outcome - there needs to be a higher volume of failures (entrepreneurial experiements) to do that, but don't forget we did produce a Dell, a National Instruments, and a Whole Foods.
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:
Spurred on by my recent Lucky7 post on how capital efficient Bazaarvoice was on its path to IPO, two friends sent me great posts this week on entrepreneurship and risk. And I guess it seems appropriate that I'm writing this post from Edinburgh, Scotland here at TED Global. Edinburgh is, after all, one of the birthplaces of capitalism. Adam Smith, author of The Wealth of Nations, and other prominent figures were born here. And speaking of capitalism, the former Prime Minister of Greece and the poster child for the European economic crisis, George Papandreou's, TED Global talk is already live. I found his talk sobering and, for all the controversy surrounding him, it felt rawly authentic to me.
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.
I'll explain why I named my blog Lucky7 on a later post and why I started blogging in this new phase of my life, as an entrepreneur now dedicated to helping other entrepreneurs achieve their dreams. For now, I woke up around 4:30am today thinking about the roots of Bazaarvoice, what I want to teach entrepreneurs, and the debates I used to have with a group that I am indebted to - Bootstrap Austin, started by Bijoy Goswami. The original Bootstrap Austin was truly special and Bijoy did an amazing job bringing together some terrific entrepreneurs. It was there that I met Eric Simone (one of the first investors in Bazaarvoice) as well as Josh Baer (one of the first investors in Bazaarvoice through his team building our first solution and getting paid primarily in equity versus cash).