Tag Archives: seattle entrepreneur

Ben Huh: be weird, practice failure, thank the Internet

Guest post by Alex Diaz, vice president of UW American Marketing Association chapter

“The best things in life are non-linear.” So said, Ben Huh, CEO of Cheezburger Network, at a recent event organized by the University of Washington American Marketing Association in collaboration with the UW Foster School of Business Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.  Not surprisingly, his talk, “Making Failure Cheap: Managing Risk to Ensure Success,” was no ordinary bullet-point-filled PowerPoint. Instead, Huh was an amazing speaker who grabbed everyone’s attention by sharing his real-life stories—the kind of tales we (as students) hope we never have to face.  Together, we all learned how he overcame his challenges in the most unconventional of ways.

Ben Huh is a quirky, innovative, natural entrepreneur. He injects fun into everything he does, which helped make something as trivial as sharing cat pictures into an Internet sensation. The audience heard about his successes – like “LOLcats,” but also learned about how to create knowledge through failure and to learn from mistakes. Huh gave a call to action to “hack the system” and follow your vision.

Thinking beyond the great education we are getting here at the UW was another piece of Huh’s advice. While educational institutions do an amazing job teaching us how to strive for success and accomplishment, we can’t forget that a proper education is actually a balance of what we learn from the books and what we are courageous enough to experience in real life. Being courageous enough to consider our failures as good practice, is one example. Huh suggested we not fight failure, but take it in and redefine what motivates us.

Specifically with regard to using the Internet in future ventures, Huh reminded us that users drive it, and that the Internet IS culture. Each user is motivated innately and content is then created by the masses. This means that a different user mindset applies to different mediums. Know your audience.

The gist is this: There are two ways of looking at the future. The first is that you see the future as inevitable, whether good or bad, everything is already set in stone. The second way of looking at the future is to create it the way you want it. Hearing Huh speak helped the audience remember that we each have the ability to do exactly that. Nothing has been determined for us.

Huh’s presentation left us all with the following insights: Being weird doesn’t mean you are alone (thanks to the Internet).  Instead of following the money, be non-linear and follow your dreams. Know what motivates you and strive to make an impact. Take what you can from your dreams and make them as real as anything.

Sack-religious advice to budding entrepreneurs

“More important than writing a business plan,” states Andy Sack, serial entrepreneur and investor, “entrepreneurs need to get out and meet the people and explore the markets they’ll be serving.” Contradictory advice for students entering a business plan competition?  Not really.

When Andy Sack made that suggestion as part of his “Start-up Checklist for Entrepreneurs” presentation to launch the Resource Nights for the 2012 UW Business Plan Competition, murmurs and nervous laughter broke out in the auditorium. No one expected to hear that. But as Sack reminded his audience, “Ideas are not opportunities.” Thinking of starting a restaurant? Go stand on the street corner that you’d like to rent and ask the people who walk by if they’d come in for dinner.

Sack knows early-stage entrepreneurship. He’s got 17 years of experience as a successful entrepreneur, and partner and co-founder of TechStars, Founder’s Co-op and Lighter Capital. The tech newsletter Geekwire called him “one of the three people to know in Seattle.”

“Andy’s the reality-check guy,” says Connie Bourassa-Shaw, director of the UW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “He’s direct, honest, and no nonsense. If you say that you’re in it for the money, he’ll tell you there are a million easier ways to make a living. And very often, your question to him will result in a question back at you: ‘What do you think?’  He wants to know what you’re thinking.”

After you’ve got your idea, Sack said, go directly to opportunity validation. Can you create value—and make money? Put it all down on one sheet of paper. His other fundamentals for first-time entrepreneurs include:

  • Resolve founder issues in the first 90 days: who does what and who earns how much?
  • Make a list of the top 10 personal reasons why you’re starting this company—followed up by the reasons why you shouldn’t do it.
  • Ask yourself how much time and money you’re willing to invest. Really. Put down the number of months, and the dollar amount.
  • Write an executive summary and share it with five people you respect. If you’re not hearing some negatives, you’re not trying hard enough. You should also be telling your story early and often and listening to what people say.
  • Establish [companynamelegal]@gmail.com and sending all legal correspondence there.

Perhaps most importantly, Sack stressed the value of the team. “More than anything else in entrepreneurship, people matter,” he repeated. “You need to be able to understand, communicate and listen to your employees, partners and investors. They don’t teach that skill set much in school, so get it down now.”

View Andy Sack’s full presentation. Want more tips for how to start a company? See the UW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s Start-Up Resources.