I attended Babson College’s Forum on Entrepreneurship & Innovation last week. I’ve been to a few of these Entrepreneurship conferences now and my eyes open wider every time I go. My heart beats faster as I become wiser. This stuff is amazing.
Allow me to summarize the day’s events:
Isaac Larian, keynote speaker and founder of MGA Entertainment (known for Bratz dolls among other things) is an Iranian born, American success story. Like many of the speakers that day, he came from nothing, took great risks, and had great visions. He didn’t always succeed, but he kept his nerve and trusted his instincts. A few points he made:
- Be paranoid, re-invent yourself. Just because you have a good idea, doesn’t mean that its the best. Someone will always trump you, unless you can trump yourself first.
- Trust your intuition. Go with your gut and don’t let the naysayers water your ideas down.
- Expect to fail, then get back up and do it again.
- Innovate, not imitate.
Jamie Leventhal, founder of Clio Designs talked about creating your own niche, and dominating it. They make an under $20 personal electric shaver targeted at teen girls which is sold under theirs and other names all over the world. They are constantly developing new inexpensive but quality products. Some fail, and some succeed. They are most successful when they “focus on what they do best, and then exploit the hell out of it.” I like that advice.
I had lunch with Ruthie Davis, founder of DAVIS by Ruthie Davis. She designs and manufactures high-end (up to $950/pr.) women’s shoes. You can find them in the highest-end stores next to the biggest brands. (I’d name a few but I’m fashion-illiterate) And she’s a one-woman shop. Her shoes are being worn by A-list stars in top fashion magazines and business is snowballing. She built her business by learning every aspect of it from accounting to manufacturing, most importantly – keeping an eye on quality at every step. In the fashion world especially, your most valuable asset is your brand.
Jon M. Huntsman was the mid-day (main) keynote speaker. Instead of talking about the success of his companies (14,000 employees and 2006 revenues exceeding $13 billion), all of his stories focused on his ability to give back to people. To date, he is recognized as giving over $1.2 billion to all types of charities. I loved his challenge to “write your eulogy today.” Because in the end, do you want to be remembered as a successful businessman, someone with a beautiful house and lots of money, or someone who devoted his life to giving back and helping others.
In the Technology Entrepreneurship forum, Kevin Colleran of Facebook explained how they had a great product, and exploited the hell of it. (Heard that before?) They focused on what they were – a social network designed to keep people connected on a personal level (where MySpace focused more on sharing media and thoughts.) They didn’t dilute their service with ads or off-topic functionality. They currently have over 75 million users. What they recognize, is that their value is not in charging people for using their service (because they don’t), but in analyzing the use of their network (they track everything). They have tools that analyze a word of phrase (say Coke) and then see who is mentioning it by demographic, and is it favorable or not. See the possibilities? Another amazing innovation they had came when they wanted to translate their site into Spanish. One company quoted a huge amount of money and a 6-month timetable. FaceBook came up with a solution to let users offer a translated suggestion to any word on the site. Then they averaged the translations to come up with the best translation of each word or phrase. If I remember correctly, he said it only took about 3 weeks to translate the entire site into Spanish. It took about 3 days for the next language conversion. And now people can even create their language translations – see “Pirate-English.” They probably have the best translation tool ever, and it cost them essentially nothing.
The wrap-up Keynote was done by Florine Mark, President & CEO of the WW Group, Inc. (Weight Watchers). Se talked about how persistence pays off, and word of mouth is your best advertising. But the focus of her talk was on, yes again, giving back. It may seem easy for hugely successful millionaires to “give back”. Florine talked about growing up in a small apartment 4-to-a-room because they had to rent the other room out for money. Yet every Saturday, her grandmother