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Not Snow Nor Sleet Nor Gloom of Economy...
Diehards and daredevils brave an ice storm to mark Netpreneur’s final 
Coffee & DoughNets and learn why “It’s a great time to start a business!” 

5 Simple Secrets for Success

“At the end of the day,” says Mario Morino, “it's remarkably simple to understand a business proposition.” There are just five principles: 

Number one, there has to be a buyer with a need. Without that, you have nothing.

Number two, you have to have a solution.

Number three, you have to have the entrepreneur who can make it work.

Number four, you have to have enough of those things to make it worthwhile.

Number five, when you do it, you want to make a profit.

“Just five points,” says Morino, “real simple.  It's amazing how much we violate them.

(Reston, VA -- December 11, 2002) It was fitting, although unintended, that this final Netpreneur Coffee & DoughNets should feel so much like one of the original meetings held more than five years ago.

Back then, when Netpreneur and Greater Washington’s entrepreneurial community were still new, the crowds were smaller, the sessions more informal, the conversation more ad hoc, and the atmosphere more clubby. Over the years, the crowds had grown as high as 600 during the height of the dot.com bubble, then tapered off as times got back to normal, as less determined entrepreneurs returned to more secure positions, and as a tighter economy pushed weaker business ideas to the sidelines.

Today, although the number of early registrants had neared old heights to mark the passing of what had become a community institution, most of those who signed up were kept home by a freak ice storm that closed other events and organizations across the region. Not so for about 175 diehard entrepreneurs, however, who wouldn’t have missed this event for the world.  It seemed  a flashback to that time when being a “Washington, DC entrepreneur” wasn’t just an oxymoron; it made you a member of a select group, and Netpreneur’s Coffee & DoughNets was the place to go to meet your colleagues.

Stymied by the weather conditions so that he arrived mid-way through the session, George Pappas, President and CEO of Plesk and a panelist for the event quipped upon finally being seated at the dais, “The trip here this morning was like entrepreneurship—you never know what's going to happen when you start out, but if you keep at it, you get there.”

And though he said it laughing, his co-panelists—Amir Hudda, CEO of Brickstream; Rick Steele, co-founder and CEO of NuRide; and veteran entrepreneur and Morino Institute Chairman Mario Morino—had all expressed the same thought as emblematic of the event’s theme, “It’s A Great Time To Start A Business.”

Ever since the dot.com bubble burst in mid-2000, early stage entrepreneurs have found it harder to get private equity investments, and, with the downturn in the economy, harder to find corporate customers. Hudda sees both beginning to turn around, and he also said that it is easier today to get top-notch team members with so many people available.  

“When you're looking to hire your key set of executives or even one level below,” said Hudda, “there's more to choose from and it comes at a lower cost than you would have traditionally paid, whether in salary dollars or bonuses or equity or whatever. It's significantly come down from two or three years ago.”

All are important factors, and for Steele there’s an even more fundamental reason why it’s a great time to start a business—there are still important business problems that need to be solved, so, “The fact that the stock market is jumping around is almost irrelevant,” he said.

For Steele, as for the other panelists, the difference between true, timeless entrepreneurs and the dot.bombs was vision and dedication. “Some people,” he said, “may have joined the game then because they were looking for a quick hit, some fame and glory. They wanted to be in the paper; they wanted to be on the news; they thought it was suddenly cool to be a geek. But, once that washes away, there are still fundamental problems to be solved, and I think the group here today thrives because people want to solve these problems.  They know these problems, they can touch them, feel them, see them. They say, ‘I know I could do a better job than those six companies or do it in a better way.’”

The truth is that any time is a great time to start a business if you’re committed to a vision you believe in. Economic conditions are challenges like any other that you’ll simply have to address and overcome. As Morino put it, “If you have a thousand sales people, the economy is a factor. If you've got to generate $2 million in revenue and it's just you and a partner, don't blame the economy. The market's too big for you not to raise that money. It’s about performance.”

For Morino, the spirit is best described by author and visionary Peter Drucker, who defined an entrepreneur as someone who will find a way to do something differently for a problem that already exists. Successful entrepreneurs constantly adapt to times and markets, good and bad. As Pappas recounted, “One of the ways we’ve grown sales over the past year, in spite of the difficult economy, is that we've built add-on modules to the product that help people migrate from different products to ours. It's things you never would have thought of until you spoke with the customer.”

The upshot is, of course, that regardless of the time, entrepreneurship is never easy, but it is always gratifying to people who have been bitten by the bug. Morino summed it up saying, “There is no greater time [to start a business] because you control the time. That's your choice, that's your opportunity. If you have a brass ring you're going for, I'll be the first one to tell you to go for it.”

That spirit of seizing the day was raised in another sense in comments by Morino and Netpreneur Executive Director Mary MacPherson on the future of the program.   Earlier this year, the Morino Institute announced the sunset of  Netpreneur at year’s end, as the Institute’s strategic direction shifts to venture philanthropy and Venture Philanthropy Partners. MacPherson updated the group on the plans, including the announcement that, although Netpreneur will cease organizational operation as of December 31, 2002, the Institute will continue to run the Netpreneur website and publish its weekly newsletter, Netpreneur News, well into 2003.

In addition, a small subset of the team will stay on into the new year, working with a number of volunteers who have stepped forward to assume responsibilities for many of Netpreneur’s services, such as the email discussion groups, the regional Calendar of events, and more. In fact, she said there are ongoing discussions with a group of prominent organizations including the Northern Virginia Technology Council, the Tech Council of Maryland, the Washington DC Technology Council, Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, the Greater Baltimore Technology council, and others to continue with a series of face-to-face events in the Coffee & DoughNets tradition that would help keep the community of entrepreneurs together.

“In a nutshell,” explained MacPherson, “the centralized Netpreneur team operation will evolve into a distributed network where a loose confederation of groups and individuals will deliver services and administer processes to facilitate this. Especially during the transition, the Morino Institute is going to keep the Netpreneur Exchange website operating and continue to provide access to our discussion groups and broadcasts.  I want to be clear, Netpreneur is not continuing and while the site will be available for reference, other people will be maintaining it.”

The statement prompted one audience member to comment during the Q&A, “I feel such a connection with these people that I would like to see this continue in some kind of a social environment because of the connections and the intellectual pursuits. I don't know where you get friends like these.”

Morino picked up that theme and used it to project the distributed organization model even further. “Organizations come to an end,” he said. “That's just life. What you always measure is which of the relationships continue. A year from now, I think we're not going to see any formal construct of Netpreneur. The website will be there with its banner, but what will happen is that pockets of relationships will have been created, and that will be absolutely terrific for this region. That's the heart of entrepreneurship, fueled and driven by totally informal, loose organizations.  I hope that happens.”

Copyright 2002, Morino Institute. All rights reserved.

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