The second annual Cornell Entrepreneurship Summit was held on October 11 in New York City and I was thrilled to attend.  This year, the Summit was sub-captioned “The Beginning:  From Nothing to Something”, and featured presentations from mostly Cornell entrepreneur-alums, one VC-alum and a few reps from entrepreneurship@cornell, the campus-wide program that promotes entrepreneurship education, events, commercialization and learning opportunities.

Keynote speaker Kathy Savitt, Chief Marketing Officer of Yahoo and veteran of over 100 startups, presented her “Ten Road Rules” for entrepreneurial success.  Among these were:

  • “Find Your Why”.  Identify the reason for your company’s existence – the pain you’re seeking to cure, and how you’re going to help cure it – write it down and remind yourself of it every day.
  • “Make deposits into the Cool Jar”.  Too often startups are content with simply identifying a perceived trend and following it; that would be a “Cool Jar” withdrawal.  Instead, Savitt urges entrepreneurs to innovate; that would be a “Cool Jar” deposit.
  • “Never Outsource Your Core Competencies”.  When Savitt took over as CMO in August 2012, 90% of Yahoo’s customer service personnel were overseas; today, 75% are in-house in the U.S.
  • “Fight to Stay Small as You Grow Big”.  As startups grow, the tendency is for management to get centralized and hierarchical and lose attention to detail.  Savitt pointed out that titles are less significant at Yahoo (which she refers to as the “World’s Largest Startup”), and that CEO Marissa Mayer was intimately involved in redesigning Yahoo’s logo.

Wayfair’s co-founders Niraj Shah and Steve Conine presented themselves as the “Odd Couple” of their leading online home goods retailer with 2012 sales of over $600 million.  They described their ideal employee as bright, hard working, analytical and team oriented because “these are qualities you can’t teach”.

Brian Distelburger, President and Co-Founder of Yext, encouraged entrepreneurs to “get comfortable making fast decisions with imperfect information under intense pressure”, this after immediately winning over the audience by flashing his somewhat challenged cumulative GPA across the screen at the outset of his presentation.  Yext is a market leader in location data technology.

VC Josh Wolfe, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Lux Capital, warned that he speaks real fast and would provide an hour’s worth of information in his allotted 20 minutes.  He overperformed.  Among the more energetic presentations of the day, Wolfe showed slides demonstrating how science fiction gadgets became the precursors of some of today’s cool technologies, and then a video featuring one of Lux Capital’s portfolio companies that seeks to place basic 3D printing capability on consumer desktops.

Scott Belsky, Founder of Behance and VP of Products/Community at Adobe, did a terrific job moderating.  Other entrepreneur presenters included Cheryl Swirnow, COO and Co-Founder of Sherpaa, Jessica Crolick Rolph, COO and Founding Partner of HappyBaby, and Karim Abouelnaga, CEO of Practice Makes Perfect, Inc.

Randy Garutti, CEO of Shake Shack, told his compelling personal story of growing up in New Jersey, leaving the East Coast after college for jobs with restaurant chains that had him skiing in Aspen and surfing in Maui before ending up in Seattle when Danny Meyer, chief executive of New York’s Union Square Hospitality Group, lured him back East.  According to Garutti, Shake Shack was a “total accident” resulting from a hot dog stand to support an art project in the park.  He said that Shake Shack borrows from the fine dining backgrounds of its management team and its locations are intended to be the “great community centers” that fast food restaurants used to be, instead of what they do now which is getting customers in and out ASAP.  The frozen custard served during the break that followed was a terrific treat.

Neal Goldman, Founder and CEO of Relationship Science, said that he always believed there should be an easier way to identify and connect with people that may be key in pursuing professional objectives, so he created RelSci, which profiles executives and dealmakers.  It does this with a database of more than two million names and a million organizations, and compiles board memberships, school backgrounds, political and charitable donations, job histories and other data points.  Goldman had a few choice words for VCs, with whom he’s had bad experiences which at least made for a couple of hilarious anecdotes.  Instead, RelSci has attracted investment from the likes of Henry Kravis and Ken Langone.