By: Diane Stirling
Students, faculty, and business leaders from Syracuse University, the School of Information Studies and the Syracuse community packed Emerging Talk on Thursday night to hear Philip Kaplan’s insights about what works and what doesn’t when you’re an information entrepreneur.
In a humor-filled, self-effacing presentation, an animated Kaplan, a 1997 School of Information Studies (iSchool) graduate and an iSchool Board of Advisors member from 2006 to 2012, leveled with the audience of experienced entrepreneurs and budding developers, programmers, designers, and product inventors. Kaplan encouraged the audience not to feel intimidated by the knowledge of successful entrepreneurs in the industry. “A lot of times when you’re just starting out, you look at people like me or you have mentors—all these people who are supposed experts – and it makes you feel like, ‘That person knows a lot that I don’t know. The truth is, people are making things up all the time; nobody knows the magic formula,” he advised. “That’s one of the reasons I like coming back, I can sort of tell the students the stuff I think I wish I knew then,” he said.
Kaplan discussed how he got his start and what motivated him then (and still does), to create products, develop apps people want, find users, and succeed in business. After graduation he worked in New York at two different jobs, one at a large company and the other at a small firm, when he decided to quit and go out on his own. He had saved $2,000, an amount he knew would sustain him for a month. “There’s nothing like the motivator of potentially having to move back in with your parents to make you figure it out,” he half-joked. So, an energized Kaplan took to the telephone. “I called every person I knew; I spent my whole life on the phone until I got someone who needed a web site. I’ve been an entrepreneur ever since – which is I think the greatest job in the world, so I highly recommend it,” Kaplan said.
That one small website-design job eventually led to another, then to more and larger projects, work for Fortune 500 clients at much higher revenues, and soon to some very successful ventures. Within a few years, Kaplan, now 36, co-founded and sold several companies (including Blippy, a venture-backed social shopping company, Tiny Letter, and F-d company.com), and has become a best-selling author. AdBrite, which he co-founded, is the largest privately-held Internet ad network. He has worked as entrepreneur-in-residence at Charles River Ventures, and has advised several companies. He is CEO of ADHD Labs, Inc., and is an active and engaged angel investor.
Information entrepreneurs should pay attention to their natural signals about where to put their focus and efforts, Kaplan told them. “Whatever you’re thinking about when you’re taking a shower, whatever you’re stressing about when you’re in the shower, that should be your only focus for the day until you’re thinking of a different issue,” he half-joked. It is also important to pay attention to your intuition and inner voice, he suggested. “The only business regrets I have in life are when I went with someone else’s advice when it didn’t feel right to me.”
While success may be what entrepreneurs ascribe to, failure is part of the game, too, Kaplan noted. “What people didn’t know – and what nobody writes about—are the 25 things I launched that never went anywhere,” he laughed. And while he admits it sounds cliche, Kaplan believes in the adage of “doing what you are passionate about,” he said. “Every business I‘ve had that’s worked out started as a hobby.”