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The following is a comment to an interesting blog post, We’re Rookies, not Minor Leaguers, by Jason Evanish, at Greenhorn Connect. See the original post for more commentary. In his post, Jason lists several young entrepreneurs who achieved early notable success. My comment expands on the stories of the people on Jason’s list and provides links to further background. These stories illustrate several of the issues and observations on innovation discussed in other posts here on Empirical Reality.
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Interesting Stories

Changing the terms of the dialog from minor leaguers to rookies is a useful shift toward a more optimistic and actionable view.

Your list of successful young entrepreneurs is informative. Each company and entrepreneur has a very interesting story, from which a lot can be gleaned about how innovation occurs. I thought it would be useful to provide a few illustrative snippets from these stories:

“Elon Musk, started his first company at 24 and started PayPal at age 28.”

Elon Musk’s first company, Zip2, was sold to AltaVista. PayPal was formed as a merger between Musk’s X.com and Confinity; eventually, Peter Thiel, a co-founder of Confinity, became CEO of PayPal. Though Musk made out well financially, he says that both Zip2 and PayPal could have been more.

“Mark Zuckerberg, started Facebook while at Harvard at age 20.”

After moving to Palo Alto, Facebook received $500K seed funding in late 2004 from Peter Thiel. According to one story, another motivation for the move to Palo Alto was that Zuckerberg wanted to be CEO, which would not have been allowed had he stayed in Boston.

“Mark Cuban started his first company, Micro Solutions at age 25.”

Cuban bootstrapped MicroSolutions with Martin Woodall, who still works with Cuban. Woodall, ~31, had his own PC software business at the time, and previously worked for Texas Instruments.

“Sergei Brin and Larry Page started Google when both were age 25.”

In mid 1999, Brin and Page, after a brief meeting, received $100K in seed funding and with it credibility from Andy Bechtolsheim, one of the founders of Sun Microsystems and well known in the technology community. At the time, with so many search engines, many questioned whether another one was needed. A year later, Google received $25M Series A funding. Page remained CEO until 2001, when Eric Schmidt became CEO.

“Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started Apple when Jobs was 22 and Wozniak was 27.”

In mid 1970s, while working at HP, Wozniak designed the Apple I during nights and weekends, working out of Job’s family garage. In 1977, in order to produce the Apple II, Jobs and Wozniak received $250K angel funding (and business expertise) from Mike Markkula, then age ~35, who became the 3rd founder. Markkula had “retired” a couple of years earlier with proceeds from Intel stock options, where he was a marketing manager.

These stories have several common themes, but they differ from typical formulaic approaches to innovation.

  • None of the business concepts were considered obvious successes at the time.
  • A major tech company often figures in the background of one of the founders.
  • The group of founders often have a mix of experience.
  • Seed funding came from financially successful technologists.
  • Even after venture funding, founders were mostly in charge of their companies, and generally ended up owning a large portion of the company.
  • Timing, luck, and serendipity play an important roll, in addition to hard work.
  • Each of the stories reflects some passion for the market or for the technology.

What other themes are relevant? Something to think about…

References

We’re Rookies, not Minor Leaguers, by Jason Evanish, Greenhorn Connect, 2010/02/03.
http://greenhornconnect.com/blog/were-rookies-not-minor-leaguers

PayPal

PayPal History – Peter Thiel and Elon Musk
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PayPal#History

Elon Musk
http://www.inc.com/magazine/20071201/entrepreneur-of-the-year-elon-musk_pagen_3.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elon_Musk#Career

Facebook

Business, Casual. The Harvard Crimson. February 24, 2005
http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2005/2/24/business-casual-a-year-ago-mark/

MicroSolutions

Essay on Success and Motivation, by Mark Cuban.

http://www.changethis.com/pdf/5.02.SuccessMotivation.pdf

Google

If the Check Says ‘Google Inc.,’ We’re ‘Google Inc.’ Wired, Sept. 7, 1998.
http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2007/09/dayintech_0907

Uniquely Google. The Newsletter of Stanford’s Office of Technology Licensing (OTL), March 2000.
http://infolab.stanford.edu/pub/voy/museum/google.htm

Google Timeline
http://www.google.com/intl/en/corporate/history.html

Apple

The Apple World According to Markkula, by John Markoff. The New York Times, September 1, 1997.
http://www.nytimes.com/1997/09/01/business/an-unknown-co-founder-leaves-after-20-years-of-glory-and-turmoil.html

Steve Jobs’ Stanford University Commencement address (2005): ‘You’ve got to find what you love’,
http://news.stanford.edu/news/2005/june15/jobs-061505.html

Video of Steve Jobs’ Commencement Address
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF8uR6Z6KLc

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