When Rich Barton, creator of Expedia, Zillow, Glassdoor and many other successful web companies, spoke at the University of Washington EntrepreneurWeek 2011, attendees closely listened for his secret. What was the thing that enabled him to be wildly successful across a range of seemingly unrelated businesses? He did not disappoint, although he didn’t give up his secrets easily.
Barton referred to himself as a revolutionary who “stormed the Bastille,” a pronouncement that might—from someone else—be laughable. According to Barton, in the ancien régime of business, industries were intrinsically unfair to consumers. They guard information and profit from this secrecy. In travel, flight schedules were the closely-held province of agents. Realtors used public record information, largely inaccessible to all but the most savvy buyers. Storming the protective Bastille, releasing information and leveling the playing field for consumers is Barton’s organizing principle for success.
The next metaphor Barton employed to detail the traits of successful entrepreneurs came from the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz.” The great entrepreneur/leader needs to have all the traits that the Mighty Oz bestowed upon Dorothy’s three companions in the movie:
- Scarecrow was granted wisdom. The factory of the entrepreneur is the brain. Great entrepreneurs are smart, have insights and appreciate assets that are locked in the heads of smart people.
- Cowardly lion was given courage. Entrepreneurs have the courage of their convictions, a capacity to think boldly and an ability to convey that belief.
- Tin man received a heart (passion). Leaders believe in what they’re doing. The passionate entrepreneur will win hearts and minds.
Who knew? The talk was not all metaphor. Barton also offered a bit of advice to attendees who want to join start-ups: bring social marketing tools. Most start-ups don’t have money for marketing and these skills will be valued. In the old days, marketing on a shoestring budget was called guerilla marketing, which fits perfectly with Barton’s revolutionary metaphor.
Watch another lecture from serial entrepreneur Rich Barton. UW EntrepreneurWeek is an annual week-long event put on by the UW Foster School of Business Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.