Bob Young, the founder and CEO of Lulu.com and co-founder of Red Hat Technologies, imparted the familiar Nike catchphrase “just do it” to a roomful of hopeful entrepreneurs Friday night at the Worrell Professional Center.
“That’s the single most important thing you need to being a successful entrepreneur,” he said.
Young kicked off the 10th annual Wake Forest University Elevator Competition with a free public event, “Thoughts from a Serial Entrepreneur.”
“My whole secret to success is because I’m not smart enough to know what I can’t do,” Young said. “If you just start doing it, you’ll get the information you need and figure it out.”
Young doesn’t like traditional business plans.
“Business plans don’t have customers to tell you what you’re doing wrong,” he said. “You need customers to tell you what you’re doing wrong so that you can fix it. Get started, get some customers and continue to evolve as necessary to keep your customers happy. The customer isn’t always right, but you have to understand what your customers need. This is true for any business.”
Members of 29 teams of budding entrepreneurs from throughout the U.S. and abroad were appreciative of Young’s insight into the world of capitalism.
“He’s very eccentric and smart, but he’s not pretentious,” Park Smith, a first-year Wake Forest MBA student, said after hearing Young speak. “He’s not your typical CEO. He’s very forward thinking.”
Daniel Johnsen, a University of Louisville MBA student who is preparing to graduate in May, said Young offered a unique perspective on the value proposition. Johnsen is one of the founders of Tetraone Source, a soil and groundwater remediation technology company, which was among the fledging businesses hoping to win the Elevator Competition.
Wake Forest Dean of Business Steve Reinemund told the competitors and judges gathered for a welcome barbecue dinner after the talk that Young is a real entrepreneur, and they could learn a lot from him and the Elevator Competition.
“I hope you come away from this competition with a better self-awareness of your skills to find your place in society,” he said. “I hope you learn a little bit more about yourself.”
Lulu.com, which was founded in 2002, allows writers of books and periodicals, producers of video and other content to publish their work with complete editorial and copyright control. It now boasts more than 100,000 recently published titles and more than 2,500 new titles added each week. The works are created by people in 80 countries.
The rapid growth of Lulu is being driven by over 15,000 new registrations a week and more than 100,000 unique visitors everyday. It is built on its proven ability to grab hold of the long tail of user-generated content and provide an empowering outlet for creators of all types.
Young was named by Silicon.com as one of the Top 50 Agenda-Setters in the Technology Industry in 2006 and was ranked as the fourth Top Entrepreneur for 2006.
Red Hat gives hardware and software vendors a standard platform to certify technology. The software firm has evolved into a Fortune 500 company, rivaling Microsoft and Sun Microsystems. BusinessWeek nominated Young as one of its Top Entrepreneurs in 1999.
His book, “Under the Radar,” explains how Red Hat’s open-source strategy earned industrywide acceptance in a market previously dominated by proprietary binary-only systems. He is also a contributor to “You’ve GOT to Read This Book!” and “Chicken Soup for the Entrepreneur’s Soul.”
Young, a 1976 graduate of the University of Toronto, owns the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League and serves as league vice chairman.