Lessons from a young entrepreneur. Or whatever he is.

You might not recognize Chris Hughes' name (of course, you might). Even if not, you've heard of his work. In 2004, he was a sophomore at Harvard when, with a couple of three classmates, he launched a campus-wide social network called, um, Facebook.

Yes, that Facebook. The one I don't even have to link to, because you know where to find it.

He graduated in 2006, and in early 2007 took a leave to help launch my.BarackObama.com.

That makes him kind of a rock star in the new media world.

He spoke at Onondaga Community College Tuesday night as part of the Famous Entrepreneurs Series, bringing some insights into entrepreneurship, businesses in general and the future of the Internet.

Entrepreneurship

None of the Facebook founders thought of themselves as entrepreneurs. Which shouldn't be surprising, since they were 19-year-old college students. Hughes said they were young, curious, and wanted to do something important.

Entrepreneurs, he said, want to make an impact. It doesn't matter whether that's for a big profit, a little profit, or a non-profit. It's a way of thinking.

Facebook succeeded, Hughes said, because of trust and privacy. It's a useful product, and they were able to build it out by crowdsourcing. [I'll handle crowdsourcing in another post in the near future, but let's just say that Facebook is in over 70 languages and a professional translator has never been on the payroll.]

» Read Jill's take

Successful Businesses

So, apart from the crowdsourcing, what makes a successful business?

Focus on the product What do you do? What is your focus? If you have an idea for a new feature, how does it affect your core product? If you react to some customers and not others, how does that affect your product.

When on the Obama campaign, Hughes said a group of people – and people were the product for the grassroots campaign – used the campaign tools to put down some of the then-candidates' policies. The campaign decided to let it ride, to let people know they were being heard, they weren't going to be shut down, and that Obama just didn't agree with them.

We know how that campaign turned out.

Don't worry about the formalities There are rules to building a business, and then there are "rules." The "rules," Hughes said, say start with a board of directors, get investors on board, and build something big and wonderful and hope people show up. If they don't, start marketing the hell out of it.

On the other side of the coin, if you start small and see if your idea works, you haven't lost a whole lot if it flops. Build a little, let it succeed; build a little more, let it succeed. Build it out, then get your board of advisers and investors together, before you get too big for your britches (my phrase, not his).

Analyze everything Break everything down to its smallest bits and analyze the heck out of it. Get numbers, find out who, what, where – measure whatever you can and use it to your advantage.

Hire smartly Make sure the person you bring on board is passionate about the business and the product as you are, and that they're a good match for your team.

Think long term Hughes said Facebook has turned down eight- and nine-figure offers for the company, and they haven't sold because they felt they've only scratched the surface of what they're doing or where they're going.

What else? Persistence and luck also play a big role.

What's Next Online

Going forward, what's the Internet going to be like? Hughes said we're entering a new era of participation – but not one of chaos.

» People will be their friends' filters, which means that (a) the content will be more relevant, but (b) the content will be less diverse. This doesn't mean that the truth filters will be missing – Hughes doesn't see the New York Times shutting down, but he sees it changing.

» "Transparency," Hughes said, "is good." But – and you should already know this if you're on Facebook or Twitter or any other sharing service – you need to be smart about what you're transparent about and who you're transparent to.

Lots to think about here. Would love to hear your thoughts if you went last night. You can also see what other people have to say by checking out the #fescny hashtag.

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