As a serial entrepreneur, I have started and sold multiple companies. I have had the pleasure of working with hundreds of business owners and a few billionaire families. I have written fourteen books, including a bestseller. Financially? I have earned over one million dollars from a single client and have earned millions of dollars in one year. What could possibly make last week the best week of my professional career?
In an attempt to give something back, I returned to the Anderson School of Management at UCLA for a couple days. In previous years, I would have shown up on campus, interrupted some office hours or possibly crashed a class with a favorite professor. I’d buy the obligatory golf shirt at the bookstore on the way to my car. This time, it was bound to be different.
What made this trip special? What made this trip different? It started with a departure from my normal approach. I have been known to “wing it” in all areas of my life – trips back to Los Angeles would be no exception. This time, I actually made a plan. I reached out to Al Osborne and Elaine Hagan of the Price Center. I flew in to visit them in person and to discuss how I might be able to give back to the students and alumni. We set a date for a presentation to the entrepreneurial students. To be more impactful, we left the next day open to meet with any start-ups that might need some additional help.
Between our planning meeting and the date of my talk, Anderson opened its New Venture Accelerator. What a cool place! This is the kind of resource all of us wish we had when we were starting our companies. The old basement stacks of the library have been completely renovated to create a cooperative and high-energy work environment that has the feel of a Silicon Valley start-up. A very open architecture with dozens of tables, lockers for each group’s materials, private meeting rooms, a kitchen with stocked beverages, Nespresso and Keurig coffee machines, and wall-mounted and rolling whiteboards (which I want to take with me everywhere!) everywhere.
This amazing program is run by Trish Halamandaris. An Anderson grad from ’92, Trish is the new Director, Anderson Venture Accelerator. The Accelerator is open to any new business that has a UCLA connection. To show the diversity of the group, I met students and alumni from the EMBA, FEMBA and full-time MBA programs as well as a number of highly energetic and impressive undergrads who were interning for these start-ups.
Is America the land of opportunity? Spend some time in the Accelerator and you will see for yourself. Entrepreneurship is being spoken fluently by everyone, with English as a second or third language. I heard conversations in Russian, Spanish, Korean, Chinese and Farsi. There were innovators from India, Honduras, Iran and Greece. This environment is so much more stimulating and productive than my two bedroom apartment at 11050 Strathmore Drive – where we first launched Guardian Publishing. I had a roommate, so I had no choice but to run the business out of my bedroom… literally.
Is the Accelerator Substance or Form?
The answer is BOTH! As cool as the environment is, the real fun started with my presentation to thirty young entrepreneurs. When I asked them what they wanted me to address, they were understandably shy at first. Informing them that I took two classes from, and was a teaching assistant for, Professor Cockrum, let them know that cold-calling was not out of the question. In case any former students were wondering, Cockrum still has it at age 80. I spoke with him in the Price Center for an hour and he is still sharp as a tack. He isn’t getting soft as an octogenarian either – a mere suggestion that I might be a fraction of the ball-buster he is stimulated immediate input – Really good input!
Students asked general questions about marketing, insurance, corporate structure, raising money, and brand-building. More impressively, they explored further, asking for ideas for transforming a B2C strategy to a B2B application and for creating successful exit strategies. They were also very well aware of the differences between academic approaches and practical applications. When I opened up a bit about some of my more vulnerable moments, they took the queue to ask the tougher questions.
We had a healthy dialogue about being honest with clients, investors and strategic partners – especially when things go very badly! “Your reputation is like virginity – both are only lost once.” Some may cringe at that statement, but I can tell you that some wrote it down, many laughed, and all will remember it. They wanted to know about the definition of “failure” in my eyes and how to handle it. They asked about my best moment, and my lowest, as an entrepreneur.
When the scheduled 60-minute talk concluded two hours after it began, their exuberance had rubbed off on me. I felt invigorated and chatted with a number of them for another hour about their specific businesses and ideas. On the way out, I met the team from Habit Nest. They came up to me to apologize for missing my talk and to thank me for coming anyway. They immediately suggested that they were men much older than their years would suggest. When they talked about their business, all doubts were removed.
Future Anderson Businesses
The team at HabitNest is creating paper products that help connect people in a positive way. Old school journals, gifts, and other “gratitude promoting” products are being created to make the world a better place. Think their timing is pretty good? I was able to introduce their products to Jay Abraham and Jack Canfield. Two simple conversations from on alumnus might really help these guys. Fingers crossed.
Two different groups are utilizing artificial intelligence to help the apparel industry. Imagine using technology to help you find clothes that match your style and fit your not-a-mannequin body type. They could collectively save the apparel industry reduce the 40% cost of returns from online ordering.
Want to rent a motorcycle while on vacation or on a business trip? Want to rent out your bike while you aren’t using it and make a few bucks? There is a AirBNB-style business for motorcycles called Riders Share (riders-share.com).
Location, location, location – or is it?
One team is using a proprietary algorithm to identify undervalued bars and restaurants as part of a roll-up strategy. They have some very interesting ideas to remove the costs and aggravation of food-delivery in bars – while increasing overall profit.
We have to eat! I met three fraternity brothers of mine (2 SigEps from UCLA and one from Southwest Missouri State) who are looking at foods. KPOP Foods has a kick-ass Korean hot sauce called KPOP they would love to get into any Anderson-owned restaurant. They claim it is so good on eggs, it would turn a chicken into a cannibal. I was excited to be able to make a phone call to an amazing product designer in my Vistage group on behalf of another group. They are looking at utilizing one of her patented bottles to deliver cold brew coffee with supplements like protein powder.
The innovation doesn’t stop there. One group is working on an app that will assist physical therapists help their patients. By integrating technology into the physical therapy process, they may be able to save the healthcare industry hundreds of millions of dollars.
Another team has built an app to assist psychiatrists and therapists, collecting data at times other than the 50-minute weekly session. This will help them identity, assess and address issues more effectively. In a group of do-gooders, there is a group working on image analytic diagnostic software that will eliminate the risk of misdiagnosis in your next MRI or scan.
Its and international affair! One group is working on a digital security application that may replace the need for key cards. This will be money saver and will increase safety for students, employees and customers in India.
Why was this so amazing?
In some ways, working with young entrepreneurs is like being a father of young children without the diapers (hopefully). They ask questions, questions, and even more questions. They crave information. They want to know what you have to say. For those of you who have raised kids to adolescence, you know that this particular view of you and your advice will fade…to black. As Jason Plummer (’98) pointed out about these students and young kids, “They haven’t become jaded yet.”
These young business owners have so much energy. They want to make the world a better place. They see so many more opportunities than limitations. There is a blissful ignorance that is invigorating and motivating.
Running a business is a lot of work. Many of us do it because we know we have no other choice than to follow our entrepreneurial spirit. The responsibility of running a business can make it a lonely existence. I encourage you to contact the Anderson School or a local business school and offer your time and experience to some budding entrepreneurs. You may or may not help a young entrepreneur achieve meteoric success, but you will refill your innovation tank and feed your soul. I know I did.