If there's one thing I learned at the MIT Enterprise Forum on Wednesday, February
10th at the Chase Building, its that if you forge out on your own to start your own
company, you'll have a lot of sacrifices. Other words of wisdom tossed out to the
hungry crowd were "be committed" (maybe literally?), wear a suit of armor, have
strength, focus and a good network. Panelists for this hot topic were seasoned Silicon
Alley entrepreneurs Chan Suh of Agency.com and Janet Stites of AlleyCat News,
venture capitalist Jerry Colonna and Silicon Valley entrepreneur and
investor-entrepreneur matchmaker, Guy Kawasaki. All the panelists disseminated
insightful information in a humorous and engaging manner. Other common themes
were to have passion and ask yourself if you can afford to be an entrepreneur
financially and personally.
Various perspectives on giving up a social life and losing a co-op (Chan), to not
wanting to make that sacrifice (Jerry), to struggling with the desire for a home life and
not sacrifice her company (Janet) gave the 90/10 male/female audience some tastes of
reality. Chan and Kyle Shannon, his partner, started their company after meeting in an
online chat room (woowoo!) and getting to know each other over three months. It
wasn't the #hottub chat in just any ol' chat room, though, it was in a technology forum
on EchoNYC. Chan recounted how he and Kyle would celebrate occasionally around
11:00 PM by going into Tad's Steak house for the $11.95 All-You-Can eat dinner deal.
A lot of sweat went into the company that started at $80 and is now at around "$80
million." Chan Suh's approach to his business was to have a willingness to throw all
your eggs in one basket, have a good sense of humor and be able to laugh at oneself.
He also revealed that he's grown up a lot over the last few years and has a much
fuller, richer life now.
Janet's waiting on tables and four hours of swimming laps taught her lessons in
discipline and the need to walk home at the end of the day with money to live on. Her
desire to do what she wants on her own terms is so strong she confessed "every time I
get a paycheck I wither up." The rewards of this independence and strong partnership
with her friend and business partner Anna Wheatley are paying off. AlleyCat news
has generated a terrific following and their conference is one of the hottest ticket items
The panelists all agreed that to be an entrepreneur you must have the spirit of having
to prove something to the world. Guy laughingly said that they look for people who are
too dumb to know what they're doing. He got serious when he said you should "never
ask someone to do something you wouldn't do yourself. After reading 20 business
plans a day he let all the audience know that most likely your idea has already been
The second half of the panel focused mostly on the debate of whether one should look
for VC funding and the pros and cons of it. Jerry espoused that good VCs should be
able to point you to CEOs they've worked with and serve as a good source for
contacts. Guy seconded this with stating that VCs are essential to a business.
The audience, including Jeffery Philips, COO of Rhizome Internet, Peter Martin, an
investor, Gene Cohen, president and CEO of IT&F and Matthew Bruck, vice
president of Robert Meredith & Co, went on the ride all the panelists took us on with
their personal and professional stories of success and failures. Before the panel I had
a chance to meet Daniel Politzer of Deutsche Bank Securities who I mused whether
our great great ancestors might be related with and David DeSanto, managing director
of Cyber Solutions. Abraham Grossman, Ph.D., president of InVitro Diagnostics, Inc.
shared his joy of receiving his second grant from the defense department for his
invention that detects biological weapons and Mad Cow disease in other animals.
Whew! Now we can all go home and just worry about our businesses!