Longhorn Entrepreneurs Share Wisdom at Austin Chapter Event

An ice cream shop owner, a lawyer, a techie, and a bookstore founder walk into a room. The result? A compelling discussion between some of Austin’s leading entrepreneurs about the city’s startup scene.

“Tonight we look at how Austin interacts with great ideas to create wealth and jobs through innovation and entrepreneurship,” said McCombs School of Business professor and panel moderator John Sibley Butler at this week’s Texas Exes Austin Chapter‘s TEAP (Texas Exes Austin Professionals) event, which was held at the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center. Panel members offered up advice and insight into their own beginnings. Among the evening’s gems:

1. You don’t need a genius idea. Contrary to popular belief, successful entrepreneurs don’t have to come up with completely new ideas, said Gary Hoover, a former UT entrepreneur-in-residence and the founder of Bookstop and mobile game development company BigWig Games. Instead, focus on mixing concepts that already exist—as Hoover did when he took Toys”R”Us’ superstore model and applied it to a bookstore. “Most great breakthrough ideas are just combining two things everybody sees every day,” Hoover said.

2. Don’t be afraid to change. Amy Simmons, MBA ’92, of the 29-year-old Austin staple Amy’s Ice Creams, reminded young entrepreneurs that sometimes sticking with what you started isn’t the best thing you can do. “I thought I was going to be a doctor,” said Simmons, who graduated from UT with degrees in biology and psychology. “I did work for an ice cream store when I was in college, but more seriously I worked at the Harvard Primate Center and Tufts Medical School. But the ice cream store was fun. I was just delaying growing up.” While it might be the fun of the ice cream business that appealed to Simmons, she doesn’t hide how seriously she takes her business. She jokingly said, “What we do is more important than medicine.”

3. Anticipate your customers’ needs. Brett Hurt, BA ’94, Life Member, has fond memories of working in his parents’ store growing up. “I could always interact with my customers, talk with them. I could ask them how they found us. But online I couldn’t do any of that,” Hurt said. “Everything was masked by a web browser, so the online store was like a black box.” So he founded Bazaarvoice, an online network that makes customer-retailer communication easier to receive and interpret. “You’ve got to take a really good look at your market and find what’s missing,” Hurt said.

4. Take advantage of your connections. Bill Murphy, MBA ’98, JD ’98, Life Member, partner with Dwyer Murphy Calvert LLP, believes that he owes part of his success to the connections he made during his time at UT. For this reason, he is determined to offer as much help as he can to fellow entrepreneurs. “No matter who calls me, no matter what the reason, I make a point to sit down and have coffee with them,” Murphy said. “There are lawyers, there are entrepreneurs, there are people that are willing to sit down with you if you just take the initiative and ask for the time.”

Illustration by Bud Caddell on Flickr.


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