Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Lessons Learned

Being a young entrepreneur has many advantages. Students generally have fewer financial obligations and are able to take more risks. In addition, students often have more opportunities that stem from being in the university environment. Such opportunities include access to knowledgeable professors and relationships with other intelligent students. But today, I’d like to talk about several of the problems related to being a young entrepreneur.

Let’s turn back the pages of Cornell history to 1994 and examine a case of particular relevance to Cornell. That year two computer science students named Stephan Paternot and Todd Krizelman founded a primitive social networking site that would later be known as theGlobe.com. The company was an instant success and in 1998 it attracted a lot of attention by posting the largest IPO gains of any company in history up to that date. At the age of 23, Paternot and Krizelman were valued at $100 million each.

Yet the fame and success these youths acquired soon attracted a lot of criticism from the media. In 1999, CNN filmed Paternot dancing on a table with model Jennifer Medley in a Manhattan night club saying, “Got the girl. Got the money. Now I'm ready to live a disgusting, frivolous life.” Unfortunately, things did not stay so perfect for Paternot. 1999 was the year of the dot com bust and shares of theGlobe.com dropped from a high of $97 to less than a dime. The two young entrepreneurs lost all of their money and faded out of the spotlight. The following year, Paternot and Krizelman were forced out of the company—a sad ending to a story-book beginning.

Tales like these of young entrepreneurs experiencing massive failures are all too common. And when it happens, the ending is never good. There is just something to be said about age and the experience that comes with it. It’s simply not enough to just have the technical talent or the strong work ethic to make a startup succeed. Often you need the wisdom of those who have already done what you have done. So finding the right mentor—whether it be a faculty advisor or a parent or a close friend—is essential to navigating the unfamiliar territory of entrepreneurship and enterprise.

Interested in hearing more about mentoring? Check out the eClips theme where Entrepreneurs Discuss the Role of Mentors

Allen Miller
akm64@cornell.edu

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