Conquering the ‘Hard’ As CSUN Students Gear Up for Bull Ring

Shark Tank Meets MatadorsBy: Lewis Dvorkin, Entrepreneur in Residence

Marc: “Do you know the best thing about startups?”

Ben: “What?”

Marc: “You only ever experience two emotions: euphoria and terror. And I find that lack of sleep enhances them both.”

Wow, so true, as I know from my own startup life. Last week, at the David Nazarian College of Business and Economics’s kick-off session for the 4th Annual Bill Ring competition, I saw both euphoria and terror in the faces of students aspiring to be entrepreneurs. Okay, maybe not terror, but certainly apprehension.

Marc in the dialogue above is Marc Andreessen, co-author of Mosaic, the first widely used Web browser, and co-founder of Netscape. Ben is Ben Horowitz, a technology entrepreneur and investor extraordinaire. Together, they founded Andreessen, Horowitz, one of most powerful venture capital firms in Silicon Valley.

Most important for CSUN students, the dialogue above comes from the pages of Horowitz’s incredible book, “The Hard Thing About Hard Things. Building A Business When There Are No Easy Answers.” My advice to Bull Ring participants: get the book even if you need to sacrifice Starbucks coffee for a week.

Bull Ring is lot like one of the many Shark Tank clones, but right here on campus. It’s open to CSUN students of all majors. And there’s prize money: $35,000 in all for the Top 3 winners and additional $30,000 in what’s known as in-kind prizes.

The kick-off session, run by by Ryan Holbrook, director of the Nazarian College’s Entrepreneurship program, was intended to introduce students to the competition and the resources available to them. I was there as a mentor in my role as Entrepreneur in Residence at the Nazarian College. Also there were Professor Lois Shelton, who has put together a Nazarian College minor in entrepreneurship, and Tim Tiemann, Managing Director of CSUN’s Innovation Incubator. The larger message: CSUN students can tap academic and marketplace knowledge as they advance their startup ideas.

Okay, back to the Hard Thing About Hard Things. At the kickoff, Ryan invited the hopeful entrepreneurs to stand up in front of their fellow students to talk a bit about their idea. Trust me, that’s hard. A colleague once told me it would take me years of thinking and talking before I found the exact words to express my idea and vision. And she was right. Years after launching my startup, I was still perfecting the language. So, I knew what Ryan was asking students to do was no easy task.

One student did quickly spring to the front of the room. After that, well, it got hard. Ryan asked again. No takers. He asked again. With reluctance another student volunteered. Then, the parade began. Students lost their squeamishness and walked one after the other to the front of the room to briefly introduce their entrepreneurial ideas.

I was impressed, and I could see Ryan was, too. Each of these students did a hard thing, the first of many hard things to come as Bull Ring moves to its different stages.

Before students even got to make their early pitches, I had a few minutes to talk about the help I could offer. I said all entrepreneurs must learn to communicate — to express their dreams and passions. That could be in PowerPoint, an email, a video, through audio, whatever the right medium was to do the job. Communication — it’s one of the hardest things to do and in my mind the most critical if you want to get your idea rolling.

I’m learning that myself all over again. A month or so ago a joined a London-based technology startup in the media space as its CEO. I’m facing all the hard things I did for my first startup ten years ago, long before Ben Horowitz published his book. So, guess what I’m doing? Right! I’m reading The Hard Things About Hard Things again — from front to back. As an entrepreneur seeking more euphoria and less fear, I can’t read it too many times.

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