An Unlikely Unicorn:’s Journey From Garage To $1.3B Sale

A version of this article previously appeared in Forbes.

I recently interviewed Bruce Heavin, Co-Founder and Head of Innovation at, as part of UC Santa Barbara’s Innovator Stories series. Bruce, along with his wife Lynda, created a learning company from their garage, initially by holding in-person classes and later selling VHS tapes via mail order. Under Bruce’s innovative guidance, the company was an early adopter of the Internet, creating online videos long before platforms such as YouTube became ubiquitous.

Bruce and Lynda eventually grew their startup into a global powerhouse, offering 5,700 classes and 255,000 video tutorials to over 4 million users.

In 2015, LinkedIn purchased for $1.5 billion, making it a bonafide unicorn. The outcome was especially impressive, as the company was entirely self-funded for its first 17-years.

You can listen to our discussion in the background, while you work, run or play. If you’d rather download my talk with Bruce for free on iTunes, you can do so here.

Continue reading “An Unlikely Unicorn:’s Journey From Garage To $1.3B Sale”

Are You A Cynic Or Skeptic? Your Answer Could Doom Your Business


A version of this article previously appeared in Forbes.

“A cynic is a man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin.”  L. Mencken, American Satirist

During a recent conversation with a close friend about a high-profile politician’s motivations, my friend said, “You’re a cynic.” I corrected him and said, “No, I’m a skeptic.” It turns out, neither of us were quite right. When it comes to politicians, I am very much a cynic, but in most other regards, I’m a skeptic.

Continue reading “Are You A Cynic Or Skeptic? Your Answer Could Doom Your Business”

What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From The Comanche’s Tech Absorption Curve

A version of this article previously appeared in Forbes.

In an astonishingly short time period, the Comanche Native Americans progressed from a technologically primitive tribe (nomadic, little use of textiles, basketry or pottery), to becoming the most powerful society of the Southern Plains, controlling the Comecheria, a territory encompassing parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado. Historians such as S.C. Gwynne cited the tribe’s adoption of horse husbandry as one of the most rapid societal transformations in recorded history.

As Geoffrey Moore points out in his classic book, Crossing The Chasm, identifying early adopters is critical to a startup’s ultimate success. Inherent in the breathtaking rate at which the Comanche people became the “Lords of the Planes” are some lessons for entrepreneurs searching for their early adopters.

Continue reading “What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From The Comanche’s Tech Absorption Curve”

10 Startup Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Superheroes

Jason NazarAs part of UC Santa Barbara’s Distinguished Lecture Series, Jason Nazar, Co-Founder and CEO of Docstoc, recently shared ten lessons that emerging entrepreneurs can learn from superheroes.

Jason’s inspiration for this 6 ½ minute talk was a blog entry he wrote in 2008, which went viral within the startup community. You can check out Jason’s original entry HERE. Continue reading “10 Startup Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Superheroes”

Bank Robber Or ATM Operator – Which Are You?

Note: This is Part IV in the Startup Team Building series. Read Part I HERE, Part II HERE and Part III HERE.

Bank RobberyA Fortune 500 CEO once told me that I was a Bank Robber. Initially, I was offended. However, once he explained what he meant, I was flattered.

Entrepreneurs are law-abiding Bank Robbers. They enjoy the hours spent plotting and scheming and pulling together a team of skilled specialists to accomplish the heist. The outcome might be jail time (i.e., failure and bankruptcy), or it might be a haul so big that they never have to rob another bank. It is not the actual amount of money in the vault that motivates them. Rather, a bank robber is inspired by the seemingly unlimited challenges associated with each bank job. Continue reading “Bank Robber Or ATM Operator – Which Are You?”

What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From The Grateful Dead

Tweedledee & Tweedledum“Contrariwise,” continued Tweedledee, “If it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.”
Lewis Carroll, from Through The Looking Glass

Entrepreneurs often must take counter-intuitive, contrarian positions in order to succeed. As noted in Entrepreneurship Is A Compulsion, entrepreneurs often view the world from a slightly different vantage point, rejecting the oxymoronic term Conventional WisdomContinue reading “What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From The Grateful Dead”

Eleven Startup Tips From Richard Branson

Article first published as Eleven Business Tips From Richard Branson on Technorati.

Note: This is an installment in the Iconic Advice series. Other installments include: Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs.

Last weekend, a friend gave me and my family a wonderful ride in his plane. Departing from Edwards AFB, we flew over the Mojave Air and Spaceport, home of the world’s largest private manufacturer of spacecraft, The Spaceship Company (TSC).

TSC is building spacecraft for Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space fleet. Richard Branson Despite the fact that the specific date of Virgin Galactic’s maiden voyage remains unscheduled, over 450 citizen astronauts have put down a deposit of at least $20,000 on the $200,000 per-person fare.

In October of 2011, the company announced a $4.5 million deal with NASA to use Virgin Galactic spacecraft to conduct experiments, filling the void left by the retirement of America’s shuttle program.

It is undoubtedly impressive that Richard Branson has motivated a government organization and hundreds of intelligent, affluent people to commit millions of dollars to secure a service that does not yet exist. Even more striking is that this super-salesman is a self-taught, high school dropout. Continue reading “Eleven Startup Tips From Richard Branson”

Ten Startup Tips From Steve Jobs

Steve JobsNote: This is an installment in the Iconic Advice series. Other installments include: Words of startup wisdom from Jeff Bezos

In the course of my recent interview with Guy Kawasaki, author and former Apple Evangelist, Guy describes Steve Jobs as:

“…the world’s greatest CEO, ever. He did more for Apple’s shareholders, customers and employees than any other CEO has ever done for their shareholders, customers and employees. People should not try to emulate him, because they will be setting themselves up for failure. He is a great example of…building an enchanting company.”

There are numerous reasons for Jobs’ success, not the least of which was his uncompromising pursuit of a delightful customer experience. Continue reading “Ten Startup Tips From Steve Jobs”

Every Dollar Spent At A Startup Should Yield A Return

ROIRichard White, author of The Entrepreneur’s Manual, surveyed a number of venture capitalists, asking them to identify the characteristics of successful, serial entrepreneurs.

One of the attributes identified by all of the venture capitalists questioned was, “Frugal use of capital.” In fact, several of the venture capitalists pointed out that successful entrepreneurs often have to be encouraged to spend more aggressively. In my experience at Rincon Venture Partners, I have worked with a number of successful, serial entrepreneurs who instill an urgent sense of frugality into their adVenture’s corporate culture.

Continue reading “Every Dollar Spent At A Startup Should Yield A Return”

Ten Startup Tips From Amazon Founder, Jeff Bezos

Angry BossIn August 2004, FastCompany published an article titled, Inside The Mind Of Jeff Bezos, written by Alan Deutschman. Although the article is informative, it is the accompanying sidebar that has remained with me over the succeeding years. Under the heading, “The Book On Bezos,” the callout lists ten actionable and impactful nuggets of startup advice.

I review these tenets with my entrepreneurial students at UC Santa Barbara at the beginning of each quarter to reinforce many of the key topics we will cover in the following weeks. They are listed below augmented with quotes from Jeff Bezos taken from various points in his career.
Continue reading “Ten Startup Tips From Amazon Founder, Jeff Bezos”

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