Keeping Kids off the Street

By Emily Cieri, Managing Director

Michael Baum

After 25 years of entrepreneurship, this is Michael Baum’s WG’89 new passion.  Believe me it’s not what you’re thinking, here’s what he said on Oct. 18 at Wharton|San Francisco: “My job is to keep kids off the Street, and I mean, Wall Street.”  This was just one of many compelling insights he shared at the Second Wharton Entrepreneurial Alumni Dinner.

For the second time this year, Wharton|San Francisco was abuzz with Wharton and Penn entrepreneurial alumni who were super excited to be part of the rapidly growing entrepreneurial alumni community in the Bay Area.  Entrepreneurs came to the dinner looking to connect, learn what others are doing, and do business.  We’re proud that Wharton Entrepreneurship continues to play a major role in connecting the alumni network, and the Wharton Entrepreneurial Alumni Dinner is the center piece of our activities.  Read about the first dinner here.  This night, Michael Baum took center stage, serving as the keynote talking about Chasing BIG Ideas.  Like a number of great Wharton entrepreneurs, Michael started his first company with classmates, turning down a lucrative consulting offer at graduation to run Reality, an on-line software venture that started him on his way to becoming a “start-up junkie.”  Over Michael’s 25 year career, his work has made a tremendous economic impact:

  • 6 start-ups leading to 5 acquisitions & 1 IPO

That’s an impressive record for someone who I still consider to be mid-career. So what does he think about entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship?

Here is Michael’s idea of the defining characteristics of entrepreneurs:

  • A desire to change the status quo
  • Audacious
  • Delusional
Wharton | SF entrepreneurial alumni dinner

Do you agree?  Does it bring to mind other professions?  His Venn diagram of the overlap between these three traits included politicians, dictators and VCs (though they tend to be more neurotic).  But according to him, for entrepreneurs it’s really the drive to change the status quo – Entrepreneurs are never satisfied –they’re not interested in reaching a fixed destination.

Splunk–which collects, indexes and harnesses all the fast moving machine data generated by your applications, servers and devices – physical, virtual and in the cloud–was the game changer for Michael.   It was an 8-year experience, the biggest IPO in 2012, and has shaped Michael’s thinking about entrepreneurship. Here’s what he did differently with this start-up and what he learned—I find some of lessons may sound a bit eccentric, but I think the IPO proves his point!

  1. Tackle a really BIG problem
  2. Build a very difficult product, but make it simple
  3. Invert the business model – he did this by selling enterprise software to the end user
  4. Ignore the competition
  5. Start-up is a family – you spend more time with these people than your family, so treat them this way
  6. Never pivot
  7. Build a kick-ass team

Stop and think about these and how they apply to what you are doing now and how you can do things differently.  Maybe just focus on one thing, but certainly there is something everyone can learn from these ideas.

Once again, in his words, “My job is to keep kids off the Street, and I mean, Wall Street”: That’s a mission Wharton Entrepreneurship is clearly behind.