When I graduated U.T. in 1972 with a BBA in Engineering Management, times were quite different than they are today. Every other issue of the Wall Street Journal today talks about startups, investment capital firms, additional rounds of funding, etc. Every decade brings with it new challenges, but the entrepreneurial spirit lives on. My experiences are probably “old school”, but may still have some relevancy today.
I don’t believe that most entrepreneurs start off to be entrepreneurs, some do, but I didn’t. My advice to college graduates who have an inclination toward entrepreneurship, but are not sure, is to “hedge” your bets and follow a path like mine. I went to work for a Fortune 1000 computer manufacturer with the intent to retire with them as a corporate executive. I didn’t have to be president, but a vice president role would have been just fine.
I consider myself a moderate risk taker always analyzing my exit strategies. If my chosen path comes to a fork in the road, I will be able to quickly shift strategies with very little difficulty. The advantage of my path was simple… if I was happy at the Fortune 1000 company and was advancing to my satisfaction, then I would have stayed and retired a happy man. If not, then the policies and procedures I learned from them would be invaluable for my next move.
After 4 years with them, I realized that my goal would take about 25 years to accomplish with any corporation. To toil in middle management and deal with corporate politics for that long would be difficult and could be devastating if I didn’t achieve my goal.
In 1977, taking everything I learned at U.T. and from 4 years in the corporate world, I started EFAX Corporation, a computer software programming and consulting firm. We sold our services to Fortune 1000 companies and grew our little company to about 20 people. Besides custom programming, we also had an opportunity to create a software application that was sold within a vertical market. That was when things really got exciting… developing and implementing strategies for a tangible product that involved sales, marketing, accounting, and support.
In 1986, when the PC was becoming a major factor for business computer processing, I sold EFAX to start Circle Avenue Data. We saw an opportunity to position ourselves as the I.T. Department for small companies. They needed the same computer support that the Fortune 1000 companies needed, but could not afford full time personnel to maintain their computers.
I still own Circle Avenue Data today. Even though I am semi-retired, I am very active in the business. I have enjoyed every day of my working life. When I graduated U.T., I knew I wanted to be around computers somewhere, which was the underlying factor in all my career decisions.
And as Confucius or some other old-timer said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”