by Dennis Walikainen, senior editor
Start-ups are not easy to start, according to experts
visiting campus, and success through failure happens.
"If you are going to fail, fail fast," said Paul
Fulton '84, a Silicon Valley investor and consultant, at
Tuesday's Entrepreneur 2.0 panel on campus. "You learn
from your mistakes, and it's like skiing at Mont Ripley,
which is why I came to Tech. If you don't push yourself
to the edges, you don't know how far you can go."
Entrepreneur 2.0 sought to expose students, faculty,
staff and community members to some of the sharpest
minds from Silicon Valley and elsewhere, all of whom are
Fulton said it was important to fail
soon, so resources are not wasted on a misguided plan.
It was a theme agreed upon by the other panelists:
Marsha Sullivan '80, president of Sensata Technologies
of Massachusetts, and Dave House '65, executive chairman
of Brocade Systems in San Jose, Calif.
high on taking risks when starting businesses--they all
had--and they had all failed at one time or another on
their way to success.
"I judge a person, in part,
by what they learn from their failure," says House, who
was an executive at Intel before launching his own
companies. "You don't want to spend too much time at the
intersection. You need to move quickly down the path,
even if you have to back up and go another way."
One student asked how does one know when a risk is worth
it: "When you know what's at stake within that
environment," said Sullivan. "Never take a risk with
incomplete data," said House.
Risk is inherent in
entrepreneurship, House said. "Only one of ten Silicon
Valley start-ups succeeds."
Fulton discussed the
loneliness, and need for confidence, in leadership.
"You really have nobody with you when you are a
CEO," he said. "At the same time, you listen to yourself
and weigh the risks. You create your own luck. Look at
ideas that work elsewhere."
Some of the
entrepreneurs talked about contemplating start-ups while
having a job at an established company.
give up your day job, but be willing to move when the
time is right," Sullivan said. "Inventions can't be
Fulton created his first start-up
after being laid off from Texas Instruments ("a great
company"), and he had prepared for his new company while
still employed with TI.
Students wanted to know
how to build a good team.
"I know you all dread
team assignments in class when you don't get to pick
your partners," Sullivan said. "Make sure you are all
aligned toward your objective and that you are the one
who brings high competencies to the team. Don't worry
about the others."
"Great business teams are like
the great sports teams," Fulton said. "You can read each
other's minds, and when your teammates make mistakes,
you help them and cover for each other."
argued for the importance of diverse personalities on a
team and getting women to join because of their
team-oriented skills and the balance they can bring to
men who are more risky and egocentric.
you know when the business idea might be good but not
good enough?" another student asked.
world has a way of telling you," Sullivan said.
"Earnings growth matters. An exciting idea is not good
The panelists also did a little
crystal-ball gazing, ten to twenty years down the road.
"Look at the economic issues that exist and will
continue to be around, and address those with
technology," House suggested. "Energy and health care
are prime examples. The technology should be invisible,
and a lot of it already is. [Holding up an iPhone] Most
of this is happening in the cloud, and think where it
all was just ten years ago."
Texting, GPS and
cameras all were unheard of or accomplished on
completely different devices then, he said.
perceived a day when people could get health feedback
from their cell phones and could adjust their
lifestyles, and their medications, accordingly.
"Or the insurance companies could," an audience member
The cost of the current system of energy
consumption, especially oil, is prohibitive, House said.
"By the time you pay for protecting the people who
sell us the oil, you can double that $3 per gallon" he
said. Electric cars are becoming increasingly reliable
and maintenance free, he added.
his Tesla electric vehicle.
"It goes 0 to 60 in
3.9 seconds!" he said. "Hey, I'm a Michigan guy, I'm a
Students were also advised to look
outside the local to the global.
of YouTube videos come from outside the US," Fulton
stated. Sullivan couldn't think of a company that should
not go global.
"Except maybe dry cleaning,"
And the human side of
entrepreneurship and technology was not overlooked.
"What Steve Jobs did so well was to start with the
human experience," House said. "And then he worked back
to the technology."
"It's important to work from
the outside in," Sullivan agreed, "instead of just
pushing out the technology."
Or getting lost in
"A good time for small companies
is when there is going to be a large shift," Fulton
said. "Remember mainframes versus PCs?"