Successful entrepreneur and early-stage investor Brad Feld offered students insights into his career accomplishments at a recent on-campus event presented by the UT Dallas Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
He visited UT Dallas Feb. 22 for a fireside chat at the Blackstone LaunchPad, a campus facility for entrepreneurial mentoring, networking and resources that Techstars supports. The wide-ranging discussion covered not only his childhood in Dallas-Fort Worth and his college entrepreneurship experience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but also his advice on how to select a startup for investment and the necessity of taking a long-term perspective as an entrepreneur.
When asked what differentiates a successful startup from one that fails, Feld said obsession, not passion, is the key.
“Is the thing the founders are working on something they are truly obsessed about? Is this their life? Is this the thing they were put on Planet Earth to do?” he said. “I use the word ‘obsession’ deliberately. I do not use the word passion, because passion is really easy to fake in the context of what you’re working on.”
Feld said differing personality types can make true passion difficult to read, but, by spending time with people, he can quickly spot those who light up whenever they are working on something that is an obsession.
Last year at the South by Southwest Conference in Austin, “the Blackstone Charitable Foundation and the Blackstone LaunchPad announced a new partnership with Techstars, which is widely regarded as one of the best organizations that helps and supports entrepreneurs,” said Bryan Chambers, LaunchPad program director. “Brad, as co-founder and the face of that organization, is a natural fit to engage with our students.”
Feld grew up in Dallas-Fort Worth and graduated from J.J. Pearce High School in Richardson, located about a mile and a half from the UT Dallas campus. His first experiences with computers, he said, were at a Frito-Lay data center in downtown Dallas and at UT Dallas, where high school children were (and still are) allowed to use campus resources to sharpen their computer skills.
In 1985, he co-founded a custom software development company — Feld Technologies — while studying management science at MIT. He and his partners later sold the company for $2 million. That early success was another reason Chambers invited Feld to campus. Students would be able to relate to Feld’s experience as a collegiate entrepreneur, Chambers said.
Tina Dimitrova, a senior finance major in the Naveen Jindal School of Management, attended the event and said she learned how a successful investor and entrepreneur thinks about the venture ecosystem and his role in it.
“Feld discussed the second-order effects the startup ecosystem can have on a city and what they mean locally and nationally, she said. “As a student who will be shaping tomorrow, these perspectives helped me think about what role I will take in impacting the community.”
Dimitrova, a Texas Business Hall of Fame Foundation scholarship winner who plans to start a private equity fund, said the talk was “a very memorable event for anyone interested in entrepreneurship, investing, technology, education and city planning. Brad Feld is a leader in his field. To have gleaned some insight on how he thinks about these topics is something I will take with me beyond the classroom.”
— Jimmie R. Markham