Entrepreneur America: Lessons from Inside Rob Ryan's High-Tech Business Start-Up Bootcamp

Entrepreneur America: Lessons from Inside Rob Ryan's High-Tech Business Start-Up Bootcamp

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by Rob Ryan, Phaedra Hise
     
 

Entrepreneurship is the hottest growth area in the United States. Rob Ryan, through his Entrepreneur America program, provides advice (and sometimes capital) for some of the best and brightest young business people today, including graduates from Cornell, MIT, and Harvard. According to Ryan, anyone wanting to succeed as an entrepreneur must constantly evolve.

Based

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Overview

Entrepreneurship is the hottest growth area in the United States. Rob Ryan, through his Entrepreneur America program, provides advice (and sometimes capital) for some of the best and brightest young business people today, including graduates from Cornell, MIT, and Harvard. According to Ryan, anyone wanting to succeed as an entrepreneur must constantly evolve.

Based on his own wildly successful business ventures with Ascend Communications and his "been there, done that" experiences supporting other entrepreneurs, Entrepreneur America fosters fresh ideas for business-building by teaching the fundamentals of focusing, developing, and promoting their ideas, and crating a healthy, vibrant company that thrives on change without succumbing to disorder.

About the Authors:
One of the pioneers of the high-tech industry, Rob Ryan founded Ascend Communications with $2.5 million in venture capital. In June 1999 Lucent bought Ascend for $25 billion. Ryan's work has garnered extensive media coverage, including USA Today, Money, Inc., and Fortune. He lives on his 1,000-acre ranch in Hamilton, MT.

Phaedra Hise lives in Richmond, VA.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal - Library Journal
Having sold his highly successful company, Ascend Communications, to Lucent, Ryan left Silicon Valley, moved to Montana, and decided to give back to the business world by helping other entrepreneurs through his Entrepreneur America program. This carefully staged process, expounded here with coauthor Hise (301 Great Ideas for Using Technology), teaches the fundamentals of focusing, developing, and promoting entrepreneurial ideas to create healthy, successful companies that thrive on change. The first chapter--"Which Wanna-Be Are You?"--will help those starting out determine their core values and whether they truly are entrepreneurs. One of the most practical sections, "Peeing in the Wells," provides annotated examples of a winning executive summary and a successful business presentation aimed at raising capital. Whether they are just researching an idea or looking to improve an existing small business, readers will find this a valuable guide.--Susan C. Awe, Univ. of New Mexico Lib., Albuquerque Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Business 2.0
The greatest lesson Rob Ryan teaches in Entrepeneur America is that a novle idea doesn't magically translate into a great business and huge profits...with an entertaining, fast-moving style that draws on his experience pitching and being pitched, Ryan points out the errors "wannabes" often make...Ryan asks the tough questions upfront, the offers a road map for the rest of the journey...

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780066620664
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
01/01/2001
Edition description:
1 ED
Pages:
240
Product dimensions:
6.34(w) x 9.52(h) x 0.91(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Which Wanna-be Are You?

Roadmap: Slow down! You're not ready to talk to investors until you've got answers to the probing questions they're going to ask. Take a deep breath and then take stock of where your company stands. You've got a lot of homework to do before shopping for money.

One hot summer day a few years ago, Steve Hau and his start-up team arrived at my room in the Four Seasons hotel in Boston. Steve wore that hungry, desperate look that says "I need money now."

After little introduction, Steve began his laptop presentation as I leaned back in my chair. Steve outlined the vision that he had dropped out of a Harvard Ph.D. program to pursue: "Clinicians don't really have access to information. For example, doctors are still using index cards to capture inpatient billing charges, i.e., the hospital's most precious financial information! A week or two later, those doctors submit the cards to accounting," he explained. "Some 3 to 7 percent get lost, the rest are entered into a mainframe by a pool of error-prone clerks."

Instead Steve wanted the doctors to carry handheld computers (like Palm Pilots) with his team's enterprise-enabled software, enter the charge on the Palm, then place the handheld on an electronic synchronization cradle to automatically send the data to the mainframe.

Steve posed, "Why is it that the Avis guy can zap your rental car with a handheld device and have your life story at the point of sale...but your doctor cannot access the most basic information about his patient at the point of care?"

Breathless, Steve finished his presentation. The team's eyeswere on me as Steve pushed toward his finale, saying, "We need money. I am three weeks from closing our doors. Can you help my team?"

I sat up in my chair. "Do you have a customer?" I asked him. "Do you have a working prototype?"

Steve mumbled, "Well, no, we don't have the money to do all that."

"You wouldn't get any, either," I said. "Not from me or any top investment firm until you do."

It's the same advice I give to almost every start-up that pitches me. They usually think they're ready for investors. In reality, they generally have months of hard work ahead of them. Over and over I tell them the same thing: "Until you have product and customers, you aren't ready to raise money with top-tier venture capital firms, and those are the only ones I deal with."

Steve looked deflated. His idea had promise, and I offered some advice.

"You need to get some friendly angels, like Mom or Dad or good friends," I said. "Raise two hundred thousand dollars or so to finish your prototype and then get a beta customer, one that will test the product."

Many start-ups just roll their eyes when I shell out this tough assignment. But Steve rose to the challenge. He asked, "If we do this, will you help us?"

"Yep, I'll invite you to Entrepreneur America at my Montana ranch," I said. "We'll work on your business plan and polish your investor presentation."

I wasn't sure what to expect. I give the same advice to a lot of start-ups, and most I never see again. They just give up. But several months later, I was lecturing at MIT. After the talk, as I did the business card shuffle with audience members, I spotted Steve standing at the edge of the crowd.

"Do you remember me and my idea?" he asked. I did and asked him what progress he had made."

I raised the money, built the prototype, grew the team to five engineers, and we are currently testing our product with a dozen doctors at a large Boston-area hospital," he reported. "So, can my team and I come up to the ranch?"

You bet.

Diagnosing Wanna-be Madness

I've worked with dozens of start-ups at Entrepreneur America. That's the mentoring program I began shortly after leaving Ascend, the Silicon Valley wide-area-networking company I founded in early 1989. In running Entrepreneur America, I've seen all types of company founders. Geniuses, bozos, wonder kids, tricksters, you name it. Lots of people have a germ of an idea kicking around in their heads and are convinced they can turn it into a gazillion-dollar business. I call them "Wanna-bes." I don't use the term to be pejorative. Often Wanna-bes can transform themselves into successful entrepreneurs-but only if they're willing to work hard.

The classic error that a lot of my Wanna-bes make is mistaking the idea of a business for the actual building of a business. By coming up with a good idea, they feel they have already done the hard part of building a company. In fact, what they have done is equivalent to finding their sneakers before running a marathon-they're still not even at the starting line.

Most haven't done their homework on the business model. They haven't built a prototype or gotten feedback from potential customers. Frankly, very few are ready to raise money. My main mission with these entrepreneurs is to slow them down and get them to start asking (and answering) fundamental questions about their business.

Not only do I teach the entrepreneurs, but I learn from them. One thing I've noticed after four years of working with start-ups is that there are a few distinct types of teams. The philosophies and approaches the founders take toward building companies tend to place their companies in one of seven categories.

  • Quickie
  • Wonderful Wacky MBA
  • Send Money
  • Dreamers
  • One-Stripe Zebra
  • Technoid
  • Guts and Brains (the Dream Team)

All these categories, except Guts and Brains, have one thing in common. They have not done their homework on their business model. They are not ready to raise money. My main mission with these entrepreneurs is to slow them down, strengthen the team, and get them to start asking and answering fundamental questions about their business.

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