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an evening with rob adams printer friendly version

entrepreneur’s bootcamp

It's not the idea that's the key to a successful tech business, according to Rob Adams, founder of AV Labs, head of Austin Ventures' bootcamp for entrepreneurs, and author of the book, "A Good Hard Kick In The Ass." What is the key? What he calls execution intelligence, "the ability of a particular group of people in a particular place and time to make a company thrive." At this Netpreneur Coffee & DoughNets event held November 14, 2002, he discussed the importance of effective execution and shattered many of the common myths about starting and growing a technology company.

Copyright 2002 Morino Institute. All rights reserved. Edited for length and clarity.

Disclaimer: Statements made at Netpreneur events and recorded here reflect solely the views of the speakers and have not been reviewed or researched for accuracy or truthfulness. These statements in no way reflect the opinions or beliefs of the Morino Institute, Netpreneur.org or any of their affiliates, agents, officers, or directors. The transcript is provided “as is” and your use is at your own risk.

mary macpherson: welcome

Good evening and welcome to “Coffee & DoughNets Goes Late Night.” And, yes, it is the last time Coffee & DoughNets will be going late night.

          I'm Mary MacPherson, and, on behalf of the Netpreneur team, we're glad that so many of you turned out for the program tonight. I'm not going to spend a lot of time waxing philosophic. We'll save that for the last Coffee & DoughNets, which will be December 11, and we have an interesting program planned for that one.

          The last time we were together was October 23, the day after the announcement that Netpreneur would sunset at the end of the year. Since that time, we've been truly gratified by the responses that we've received. Many people have sent their thanks and told us stories about their Netpreneur experiences. Many of you have offered products and services from your companies to continue Netpreneur-like activities. You've volunteered your time to help us in the transition and to help the program move forward, and you've also volunteered to get involved with the philanthropic work that Mario mentioned in his letter to the community.

          I said I wouldn't wax philosophic, but I want to read from a note we received from an entrepreneur that really touched us all. Actually, it kind of undid me. This was a note to Mario, and I'm just going to read parts of it: “I've just read your sunset memo, but you really brought the sunrise into the Washington area entrepreneurial community, so I guess you have the right to go dark. I'm from the old school of believers that all things must eventually come to an end, even the good, but know you all on the Netpreneur team that I really appreciate the things I've learned through your efforts.” He went on to mention some specific things about the program, then the note picks up: “As I sit here signing our regular donation to So Others Might Eat and thinking about our contributions to a number of organizations that impact needy children, I'm reminded that the philanthropy is a result of strong entrepreneurial community, but I'm sure I am preaching to the preacher.”

          I speak for Mario and all of the team when I say that that really sums it up. Entrepreneurs in our vibrant group have a sense of giving back to the community at large, and that's what Netpreneur has been about from the start.

          In terms of keeping Netpreneur going, we've said many times that the network will live on after we're gone. In a post-Netpreneur world, it is likely to be a distributed model, one that is run by you in the community. That sounds pretty straightforward, but, as we are exploring opportunities, it actually turns out to be pretty complex. We think it’s well worth the effort, however. We’ve received hundreds of messages from people who reached out to us. We're following up with everyone and, in the next six weeks, plan to reach some kind of resolution about how this will continue. We'll have more to report on that in Netpreneur News and at the December event.

          Meanwhile, before I introduce our speaker, let me acknowledge this evening’s volunteers: Dorothy Camer of Car Free Mobility, Tina Holderness-Dante of Metamorphosis Consulting, John MacKinnon of Teligent, Sean McColl of PromoCorp, and Ed Rykowski of Information, Inc. Let me also acknowledge our team: Mitch Arnowitz, Ben Martin, Neil Oatley, Lynn Plummer, Adele Rudolph, and Fran Witzel. It is really through their efforts that all of this is possible. Even though Netpreneur is going to be sunsetting, these people are not going away. I know you'll still see them, and please say hello if you have a chance. Mario sends his regards and regrets that he couldn't be here tonight, but said to assure you that he will be at the December event.

          Now, on to the program.

          I first met Rob Adams about a year and a half ago at an incubator conference. It was in the middle of the bubble. The world has certainly changed a lot since then, but the advice Rob dispensed then still holds today. He delivers it in a way that many of us know would warm Mario's heart. [Laughing] Mario has delivered a few good, hard kicks in the ass himself over the years, and many of us in this room have been the recipients.

          Rob is going to take us through a presentation for about 45 minutes, then we'll do Q&A, followed by book signing. Without further ado, let me introduce Rob Adams.

rob adams: a good hard kick

Thanks, Mary.

          I guess that tonight I have good news and I have great news. The good news is that I'm only going to talk for 45 minutes. The great news is you get the last 15 minutes for questions.

          Having been the victim of many slide presentations as an investor, I assure you that I understand exactly where I stand—you folks and my presentation are the only things standing between me and a beer, so I promise to keep it as entertaining as I know how.

          Let me give you a little bit of my background because it's relevant to what all of you are going through and what we're going to be talking about.

          I'm an entrepreneur. I actually cut my teeth at Lotus Development back when Lotus was founded in the early ‘80s. I went on and raised money for a Boston area startup, relocated to Austin, Texas, did a startup there that went public, and now find myself in the venture business. Over the course of my operating career, I raised a lot of venture capital, both from companies I was running as well as for friends and business acquaintances, and now, all of a sudden, I find myself on the other side of the table. I like to say that now I sign the front of the checks instead of the back of the checks.

          I want to give you a perspective as someone who has been both an entrepreneur and an investor of what types of things investors look for. The original premise for the book, A Good Hard Kick in the Ass, was in the idea that during the bubble we invested in some companies that did some things very, very well. Many of those companies, although not all of them, have continued to do well. We tried to take them apart and figure out what particular piece each of those companies did that made it really good at one particular aspect of business. Those things are what I'm going to talk to you about today.

          I understand that all entrepreneurs want a checklist. They want to know exactly what to do to make things work. “Give me the 10 magic bullets and I'll go do them, I promise you.” Unfortunately, it's not that easy. Quite frankly, if it were that easy, it wouldn't be as rewarding as it is, but I will talk to you about some of the characteristics we found that set the stage for strong company traction in the earliest stages.

          The book originally came out as something of a guidebook for people doing startups. If you look at the kind of people I correspond with now who are reading the book, interestingly, it's a lot of large companies. That’s because large companies frequently find themselves up against the wall now. Some of what we talk about in the book is very fundamental. There's nothing new, there's nothing you haven't heard before, but we try to put a different twist on it or take a different approach.

          Before I dive in, I just have one more disclaimer. To keep this relationship very, very objective, I'll let you know that I'll be glad to read any business plans as long as the company is based in Austin, Texas, where, by the way, every day is as beautiful as today. I'd love to talk to you about your companies, but we focus on the Southwest, so keep that in mind for later.

          I'm going to start by taking you through the somewhat counter-intuitive approach in how we talk to entrepreneurs. I like to phrase these things as myths:

-        Good ideas are scarce

-       I know my customer

-       I have to ship the killer product

-       I must raise a lot of capital quickly

-        Investors fund business plans

-        Investors want their money back quickly

-        Advertising is the hallmark of a good marketing plan

-       I can use partners to sell my product

The easy part is to tell somebody what not to do, but I'm going to spend a lot of time telling you how it should be done or how successful companies do it, as well. Then I'm going to try to give you a little bit of the investor’s perspective.

[continued]

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