Jon M. Huntsman School of Business

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

"Hick from Montana" explains his entrepreneurial path

It seems sort of ironic that an entrepreneur who didn’t even understand he was supposed to be filing tax returns with his first business would eventually join a company that was the first firm to introduce tax preparation software that consumers could use.

Eric Jacobsen
Eric Jacobson, who is now a managing partner with Dolphin Capital, was the Lectures in Entrepreneurship speaker on Feb. 1, and those who attended that night got a very unvarnished, genuine take on the determination, attitude and luck that have made him successful.

He talked about how his first business, launched in college, was sort of a fluke that grew from the fact that he enjoyed a good party. He and his friends would host what he called “insta-parties” where they would play some music, buy some beer, and celebrate just being around.

That led to others asking him to do parties for them, and by the time he graduated he sold a company that had 40 sound systems being put to use all over northern California.

“I started a business with zero money, in fact, tremendously in debt, and ended up selling that business when I graduated for more money than I had ever had in my entire life,” he said.

He encouraged the students there to get a good education and told them being an entrepreneur was not as hard as they might think, if they were tenacious.

“I’m a hick from Montana,” he said. “I grew up in cowboy boots, long hair; racing motorcycles. I am not a prototypical entrepreneur. If I can do it, I’m telling you that anybody in this room can do it.”

He may have called himself a “hick” but he graduated from Stanford and said college is a great place to learn the basics you need to succeed in business but warned the student to never let “school interfere with your education.”

He argued that you don’t need a big investment of outside capital to be successful.

“The reality is that you are much better off if you can do it on your own,” he said.

He told a story of how he first discovered that he didn’t realize he was supposed to be paying taxes when TNT Sound was getting off the ground. Eric then talked about how, after working as an investment banker, he joined a firm called MECA, which created tax preparation software that was eventually sold to H&R Block and is now called Tax Cut.

He said part of being successful is just learning how to sell.

“You are always, always selling,” he said. “Always. It’s not a bad thing in my mind. It’s not an evil thing.”

He said that he has pitched ideas for new ventures that became very successful, despite that fact that others told them they his ideas were awful.

“Trust your gut instinct,” he said. “Your gut instinct as an entrepreneur is generally, very, very good. Push hard. Be tenacious. Figure out how to sell it. If people buy it, then you know you have a good idea.”

He warned that there would be dark days as they tried to be successful. He said the entrepreneurs who have succeeded were the people who “had the ability to never accept failure; to keep powering through it. To say, ‘I believe. Let’s go. We are gonna make it. I’m not stopping.’”

- Steve Eaton

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