The 2nd annual NYU Entrepreneurs Festival was a sold out show with 750 attendees and keynote speakers including Jack Dorsey, Herb Kelleher, Alexander Douzet, and Rachel Stern Hoat. Students, faculty, alumni, startup founders and venture capital investors gathered to share experiences and gain insights, while some eagerly searched for the secret formula to entrepreneurial success.
The show opened with Herb Kelleher, co-founder, Chairman Emeritus, and former CEO of Southwest Airlines. A charismatic leader, Mr. Kelleher differentiated Southwest Airlines from competitors by creating an innovative business model with low-cost, point-to-point flight offerings. He also fostered a unique and fun culture where staff members were encouraged to bring their personality to work. Those of us who have traveled on Southwest Airlines can attest to this unique flight experience from the time humorous flight attendants and warmly greets you with a bag of sweet roasted peanuts to the unpretentious no-seat assignment. Mr. Kelleher really showed us how investing in people and instilling the right culture can generate positive results for the company.
In between keynote sessions, various workshops such as Lean Start Machine 101 and Tech for Non-techies helped demystify questions from rising entrepreneurs. Attendees also huddled around Roundtable discussions on topics such as Social Media, When to Pivot Ideas, Social Innovation, Tax and Legal 10, all led by industry professionals, professors and alumni. During breaks, students and entrepreneurs mingled and exchanged ideas during networking sessions with food catered by Mexicue and Rickshaw Dumplings, and various samples from startups such as chocolates by Madecasse and Bixby & Co. A networking party at the Bowlmore Lanes closed the first night of the festival.
There was never a shortage of interaction at the festival – a large real time display of the festival’s twitter feed (#NYUEF) and live photos served as a backdrop at all keynote events – a great way for attendees to share their comments in a live forum. The founder of Twitter and now CEO of Square, Jack Dorsey, highlighted that he always “appreciated friends with problems” – a reminder that perhaps a little more active listening to our friend’s complaints may trigger us to find a solution that one day put us on the millionaire’s list. He also shared his sentiment that the best programmers are self-taught, a view echoed by recent public comments from Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.
Alex Douzet, co-founder and CEO of TheLadders, an online job-matching service that initially targeted its offerings to high-income job-seeker with at least $100,000 in salary; now it has no minimum salary requirement. Mr Douzet shared his experience when he started the company with limited funds that “you have to limited to be limitless” and “the more you raise it will be easier to be wasteful.” It really makes you think, running a business is a lot like adopting a set of philosophies and sticking by them during good and bad times. Jack Dorsey also shared some of his philosophy of success – to be like a sailor who can see the whole perspective of a situation and change course when needed, yet be like a tailor who can focus on the details and fit for the customer.
It was also interesting to hear Dan Porter, creator of the popular game Draw Something whose company OMGPop was sold to Zynga, using innovative ways to validate viability of his initial product. Initially, in order to track demand for his games, he would observe whether people on the subway were playing his games. Needless to say, after five weeks after the launch of Draw Something, he no longer needed to go to the subway to observe as it was downloaded 50 million times and people were playing it first thing when they woke up in the morning.
Overall, this year’s festival really demonstrates the entrepreneurial fervor in the NYU Community and in New York City. This interactive and insightful forum brought together aspiring and current entrepreneurs who collaboratively shared their experiences –from pitching ideas, learning how to draft a business plan, and finding a co-founder—we hope each person walked away with more information that will help transform their idea into a reality.