‘I sound like your mother!’ Founder of 3Com offers old-fashioned advice for cutting-edge startups

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“Eat breakfast because we’re having a late lunch!” These were the words that greeted 200 eager investors and entrepreneurs as they picked up their name tags at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center on the University of Texas campus this morning. They were there for the 3rd annual  Capital Factory Demo Day and some were so focused on getting a good seat for the keynote speaker that they skipped the advice and the breakfast buffet.

The keynote speaker was Bob Metcalfe, founder of 3Com and currently UT’s Murchison Fellow of Free Enterprise. The professor had his own advice to offer. “I’m going to sound like your mother,” he told the crowd as he began his list of five best practices for entrepreneurs attempting to start a company.

1.  Be healthy. Eat, sleep and do not run yourself into the ground. Metcalfe acknowledged that he had pulled his share of all nighters in his startup days, but he said that successful entrepreneurs stay healthy.

2.  Write. If you don’t write down your ideas, big and small, you will lose them.

3.  Speak. Practice public speaking every chance you get.

4.  Sell. Metcalfe spoke directly to the many engineers in his audience, saying “Sales people are a different species, however, they are carbon based just like you and you need them for your company. Even if you are an engineer you need to know something aout selling.”

5.  Plan. Metcalfe dismissed the notion that flexibility is more important than planning, saying “You can’t change your plan if you don’t have one.”

“If you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” said Metcalfe, “and if you’re a networking guy everything looks like a network.” Metcalfe went on to explain how he succeeded in the business of networking personal computers with 3Com by networking with other professionals in Silicon Valley. One of his most important contacts was Steve Jobs, who called him in 1979 to ask him to work for his new company, Apple Computer. Metcalfe said no because he had already decided to start his own company, and Jobs proceeded to introduce Metcalfe to some of the people who helped him the most in the years that followed.

Metcalfe believes that networking events for Austin’s startup community will do a lot to help successful businesses grow here.  “Some people ask me how to make Austin more like Silicon Valley,” he said. “The answer is to come to events like Capital Factory Demo Day.” He said that these events bring together the 6 major species in the startup ecology: research professors, graduating students, scaling entrepreneurs (those who know how to manage and grow companies), investors, strategic partners, and early adopters. Of these, he said scaling entrepreneurs are the hardest to find.

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Martha DeGrasse

Editor, Wireless Infrastructure
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Martha DeGrasse is an editor at RCR Wireless News, and is the creator of the RCR Mobile Minute. Martha has been with RCR Wireless News since 2011. Her current focus areas are wireless infrastructure and heterogeneous networks. Prior to joining RCR Wireless News, Martha produced business and technology news for CNN and Dow Jones in New York. Martha left Dow Jones to move to Austin, Texas, where she managed the online editorial group at Hoover’s Online before taking a number of years off to be at home when her children were young. Follow her at Twitter @mdegrasseRCR

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