Snow Nor Sleet Nor Gloom of Economy...
Diehards and daredevils brave an ice storm to mark
Coffee & DoughNets and learn why “It’s a great
time to start a business!”
Simple Secrets for Success
the end of the day,” says Mario Morino, “it's
remarkably simple to understand a business
proposition.” There are just five principles:
one, there has to be a buyer with a need.
Without that, you have nothing.
two, you have to have a solution.
three, you have to have the entrepreneur who can
make it work.
four, you have to have enough of those things to
make it worthwhile.
five, when you do it, you want to make a profit.
five points,” says Morino, “real simple.
It's amazing how much we violate them.
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.
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.
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
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;
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
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
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
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 . 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
“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,
I hope that happens.”
2002, Morino Institute. All rights reserved.