The keys to becoming a successful entrepreneur are luck and skill, according to Jeremy Ring, entrepreneur, Florida state senator, and author of the book We Were Yahoo!. “Luck lights the fuse, and skill builds the business,” he recently told Georgetown McDonough students.
On February 13, Ring joined Jeff Reid, professor of the practice and founding director of the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative, in Fisher Colloquium to speak about the rise and fall of Yahoo! to students, faculty, and staff at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business as part of the school’s Stanton Distinguished Leadership Series. Before his recent political career, Ring worked as one of Yahoo!’s first employees.
“Yahoo! is a story of the greatest mistakes in the history of business,” he began before enumerating several points at which Yahoo! erred. Most mistakes involved not acquiring companies at the right time – in other words, not following their luck. Yahoo! had the opportunity to acquire PageRank, which eventually turned into Google, for $1 million. A second chance with Google arose for $6 billion. A chance with Facebook was negotiated for $1.1 billion. Each time, Yahoo! turned the deal down, overplaying its hand, Ring said.
“As a tech company, one eye should be on today and one eye on tomorrow,” Ring explained. By the time the company was sold in 2016, it had so little value in the minds of analysts that it sold for $1.2 trillion less than the combined value of Google and Facebook.
Culture played an important part in Yahoo!’s initial success, according to Ring: “You keep a culture together by having fun every day. I used to stay at work until 9 or 10 at night and not notice because I was having fun.”
Acquisitions also revolve around culture. When one company acquires another, it is critical that the executives consider the cultural effect. How will the employees from each company react? Will the two companies be a good fit for one another? In Ring’s experience, the most successful acquisitions occurred when the acquired company fit with Yahoo!’s culture.
As an entrepreneur turned politician, Ring commented on policies around innovation. “State governments should be plowing money into innovation,” he said. “An innovative ecosystem starts with university.” This involves courses in computer coding, which Ring believes to be a basic skill.
Equally as important are socio-behavioral skills. Entrepreneurs grovel, Ring explained, and you cannot grovel effectively without soft skills. These skills are what will build the business, he said, as long as entrepreneurs allow for opportunities for luck in their lifetime. That means working hard and making connections.
“They’re going to use you. They’re going to work you 100 hours a week,” Ring said of big companies. “Use them back. Learn as much as you can, meet as many people as you can. Luck will hit, and then it’s up to you to follow that luck and use your skill to build.”