My return to The Wharton School as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence

By Brett Hurt, Wharton MBA 1999; Vice Chairman and Co-founder, Bazaarvoice

I had the pleasure of visiting The Wharton School recently as a returning Entrepreneur-in-Residence. I found myself more encouraged than ever about the student body and their desire to be entrepreneurs. When I earned my MBA at Wharton, from 1997-1999, I was a bit of an outlier as an entrepreneur in a class of almost all aspiring consultants and bankers. In my class, there were a few entrepreneurs, such as John Lusk and Kyle Harrison, the co-founders of MouseDriver (I recommend reading their book on the experience), and Gregg Spiridellis, the co-founder and CEO of JibJab. John is at it again with Rivet & Sway and Gregg is still running JibJab, an unusually long tenure for any Wharton graduate in my class. But, at Wharton, I was even more strange than John, Kyle, and Gregg. And that is because I was founding and running businesses while I was still in school.

I strongly believe that if you are ambitious – if you want to change the world – then you should swing for the fences when you are a young entrepreneur. You have little to lose, and once you become encumbered with children, a mortgage, and a higher-cost (i.e., not a student budget) lifestyle, you can become stuck and never have the time to realize your grandest ambitions. So I kept my consulting business going, but I also swung for the fences with three other businesses.

I kept all four businesses going – Hurt Technology Consulting, MBAZone, BodyMatrix, and Coremetrics – until I was about to graduate. I frequently worked through the night, fortunately having the ability to capture a little sleep as most of my classes started late. In retrospect, this may have been insane. But I was driven by the passion to be an entrepreneur, and I have no regrets about that. I wrote about finding your passion in this post and about how to hire those that are passionate in joining your cause in this post – you need to validate their passion. Once I determined that Coremetrics was the business I had been looking for – a huge market opportunity and one that stoked my interests (which in hindsight is now obvious to me in my retail and programming background, as I wrote about in my post on the future of retail) – I sold the other three businesses as fast as possible and went after Coremetrics with all I had. Coremetrics wasn’t an easy journey with the dot-com boom and collapse, and that journey – and the learnings from it – are well documented in this Austin American-Statesman article.

At The Wharton School today, it is a very different story. There are many entrepreneurs today that are like I was in 1997-1999. Maybe this is because of the high unemployment rate. Maybe this is because of the financial crisis, where banking both shed jobs and lost some of its luster as it almost tanked the world economy. Maybe this is because of how much entrepreneurial knowhow has been developed among the Wharton alumni and faculty since I graduated. Since graduating, I’ve been back around eight times to serve as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence, and I know many others have been too. Or maybe it is because of how well First Round Capital has prospered and especially Josh Kopelman, the co-founder of First Round Capital and a fellow Wharton graduate who recently relocated First Round’s headquarters to the Penn Campus and started the Dorm Room Fund (which I just agreed to be a mentor of after Josh asked me). I believe it is a combination of all of these, and more. Entrepreneurship is seen as “cooler” than it was before – maybe that is because the new building that houses most Wharton classes, the $140 million Huntsman Hall, was largely donated by and named after a long-time entrepreneur, Jon M. Huntsman. At The Wharton School today, you can find everything from the Penn Founders’ Club, where all Penn students are welcome as long as they are fervently working on a real business while they are in school, to Tyler Wry’s class MGMT 806 (Formation & Implementation of Entrepreneurial Ventures), where students are working on real business plans and a careful selection process is applied for those that want to get into the class. Whatever it is, it is energizing. I spoke to Tyler’s class, the Founders’ Club, and served as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence for two days. I met with both undergrads and MBAs. I was more impressed than I’ve been on any previous EIR visit. One of the students I met is both a brilliant programmer and artist. He’s already sold $65,000 of his own art – while he is still in school. He’s 19-years old.

The finale for my visit was so-called the “Power Dinner”. To my surprise, 250 students applied for the 12 spots to have dinner with me. I remember when entrepreneurs like Farhad Mohit, the founder of Bizrate and Shopzilla, visited our class. I was one of only 12 students that went to see Farhad speak. It was a brilliant and raw talk. He had been eating ramen noodle for a year but had finally just raised his Series A round. But there was little demand to see an entrepreneur like him speak during my time at Wharton. And now 250 applications for 12 spots? It made me excited for the future. Entrepreneurs create the jobs and the economic ripples. Almost all big companies, which some of you reading this work for, started with humble beginnings – with the passion of one or a small group of entrepreneurs that were determined to change the world. Pranav Kashyap was kind enough to write about the “Power Dinner” for The Wharton Journal, and you can read his takeaways from the advice I gave there.

I think Benjamin Franklin and Joseph Wharton would be very proud of the renewed focus on entrepreneurship at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania today (Franklin founded the University of Pennsylvania and Wharton, of course, founded The Wharton School). Both of them made their biggest contributions in life as a result of being entrepreneurs. I’m certainly very proud as a graduate myself. Entrepreneurs are the job creators, and being around so many young and promising ones makes me bullish about the future.

Huntsman Hall proudly stands below:

Huntsman Hall

adapted from the March 19th post on Brett Hurt’s Blog Lucky 7.

 

Hurt_headshot_SquareBio: Brett joined Austin Ventures in 2012 as a Venture Partner and focuses on early-stage software investing. Brett founded Bazaarvoice (NASDAQ: BV) and served as CEO and President for seven and a half years, leading the company from bootstrapped concept to almost 2,000 clients worldwide and through its successful IPO. Brett continues to actively support Bazaarvoice as the Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors. Prior to Bazaarvoice, Brett founded Coremetrics. Brett holds an MBA in High-Tech Entrepreneurship from The Wharton School and a BBA in Management Information Systems from the University of Texas at Austin. Brett established the Bazaarvoice Foundation and is very active in the philanthropic arena.