Yesterday I drove up to Madison, WI. The College of Business does an Entrepreneurship thing this time of year. 600 students came. Some of them have businesses and they were looking to pitch, but mostly they were there to learn. Professor of Entrepreneurship Jon Eckhardt told us before we met with the students that at least 20 of them would have a life changing experience by being there. I bet they did. I hope more than that did.
One of the reasons I love to go to college campuses is that I had a life changing experience in my BA 303 Intro to Marketing Class. I was in the Com West lecture hall (now Wohlers Hall) in October of 1983. Professor Hill all of a sudden asked the class, “Who here wants to run their own business? Stand up.” Only 2-3 of us stood up. I have never really been a marketer in my life but Professor Hill’s class was one of the best I ever took.
When I have spoken to groups, I have said similar things that Kenny said to this group. I found myself nodding my head in agreement. Kenny wasn’t a particularly stellar student. He was a sociology major, not STEM. He took more than the standard 4 years to graduate. But, as I reflected on what he said, one thing struck me about him that I think is key for people to understand if they want to become entrepreneurs.
The best way to become an entrepreneur is to simply start a business or join a fledgling business. Any business.
Kenny’s first business happened when he was an undergrad at Wisconsin. He started a T shirt shop. That’s not fancy. It’s not groundbreaking. It has no defensible borders. But, he learned the operations. He learned how to brand. Most important, he learned how to sell.
That first endeavor lead to Marquis Jet, which lead to Avion, which lead to WheelsUp, which lead to Juice Press.
The other thing that he said was it wasn’t about the money. It’s so hard for people to believe that. When building a business becomes all about the money you will make from it I can pretty much guarantee that you will fail. Building a business is about solving problems. The medium of exchange for solving that problem is money. If you build value for people, you will make money. Those things tend to take care of themselves.
Take his first business, the T-Shirt shop. You might think it was about selling T shirts. It was really about trying to get students to go to Wisconsin football games. He’ll be at the Ohio St. v Wisconsin game this Saturday.
It was really inspiring to listen to him. He has an amazing story.