Big Thinking at the HBS Entrepreneurship Conference
Sporting panelists and speakers ranging from Mark Pincus, Founder and CEO of Zynga, to Will Dean, Founder and CEO of the mindblowingly successful Tough Mudder, to Alfred Lin, Chairman of Zappos, the 9th Annual HBS Entrepreneurship Conference did not fail to impress.
The quote of the day came from panelist, Jason Jacobs, Founder and CEO of Runkeeper, who said, “If too many people believe [in your startup] out of the gate, you aren’t thinking big enough.” Jacobs’s comment echoed the conference’s mission to inspire potential or current entrepreneurs to create and execute on their visions, as well as Harvard Business School’s own mission to educate leaders who make a difference in the world.
Key takeaways of the conference were as follows:
1. Be Amazing at What You Do – Alfred Lin, Chairman of Zappos
Though MBAs generally believe in the 80/20 rule (the idea that since 80 percent of the benefit can be achieved through 20% of the effort, it is most efficient to stop there), a startup will only succeed if it is an order of magnitude better than the competition. As Lin described, “Entrepreneurs are paid to get to the 99th percentile,” and the 80th percentile just does not cut it.
According to Will Dean, CEO of ToughMudder, 99 percent of a startup is execution, 99 percent of execution is marketing, and 99 percent of marketing is empathy. Both Lin and Dean emphasized customer service and fulfilling on a customer promise as areas to “wow” customers and reach the 99th percentile.
2. Simple is the Art of Not Hedging – Adam Nash, Entrepreneur in Residence at Greylock Partners, Former VP of Product Management at LinkedIn
Steve Job’s brilliance stemmed from his ability to understand the specific job of each of his products, and to design around that job. The tendency exists for individuals to design products to be everything to everyone, and in doing so, overload a product with features. According to Nash, this feature “hedging” demonstrates a lack of understanding of specific customer need and leads to substandard products.
3. Great Entrepreneurs Become Great Salespeople – Sunil Nagaraj, VC at Bessemer Venture Partners, Former Founder and CEO of Triangulate
MBAs often hear that salesmanship is the most important skill of an entrepreneur. Nagaraj, however, paraphrased Vinod Khosla, saying, “Great entrepreneurs become great salespeople,” when they believe strongly enough in their idea. They are not just selling a product — they are convincing others of their vision. “Selling” is a second order consequence.
4. Use Data to Tell the Story of Your Customer and Their Experience – Mark Pincus, CEO and Founder of Zynga
According to Pincus, it is essential that an entrepreneur utilize data to analytically understand the needs of their customers, their behaviors, and their satisfaction with the product.
Pincus admits that data is not the end-all and be-all, describing, “Trust your instincts 98 percent, your observations 50 percent, and your conclusions 25 percent.” However, he continued, an entrepreneur cannot have good observations or conclusions without good data.
5. Pinterest – Almost everyone
To say that almost every presenter mentioned Pinterest at least once would not be far from the truth. The macro theme embedded in this, according to Adam Nash of Greylock Partners, is that virality coefficients, the network effects from new user adoption, have the opportunity to be much higher now than ever before.
Nash compared LinkedIn to Pinterest to illustrate his point. Whereas LinkedIn took 400 days to reach a million users, Pinterest did so in a matter of weeks. This also demonstrates that if a new network can be created so quickly, established players can no longer count on network size as a strong barrier to entry.
Jehan deFonseka is the Editor-in-Chief of The Harbus, and a proud member of Section B in the class of 2012.
Catherine Leary Tomezsko is the General Manager of The Harbus. She can be found on twitter @CTomezsko