Who's your favorite entrepreneur?

The following is an excerpt from an email I sent to DeveloperTown in December 2015. 

About a month ago, I attended a workshop where we were asked to introduce ourselves by sharing who we were, and who our favorite Indiana entrepreneur was. It was cool if the same entrepreneur was repeated more than once, you just had to say their name and one or two sentences as to why you liked that particular entrepreneur. There were about 30 people in the room. So it was fun to learn about some local entrepreneur's I hadn't heard of.

I took the sappy route. (You'll notice that theme with me.) I said my father was my favorite Indiana entrepreneur. My dad ran four different retail businesses in my lifetime, all of them here in Indiana. I started working for him when I was nine years old. And by the time I was 13, I felt like I was working with him instead of for him. He taught me an enormous amount about business, without ever once making it "a lesson."

I'm interested to know who your favorite entrepreneur is. You work at DeveloperTown. And DeveloperTown clients are entrepreneurs. So it stands to reason that you relate to entrepreneurs somehow. Many of the DT family are entrepreneurs themselves (Matt, Jeff, Nick, Brian, and many more) and/or their parents/family were strong entrepreneurial influences on them. That was the case for me, and I'm guessing that might be the case for Devin, Kim, Daryn, and others.

If I weren't able to give my sappy answer, my (current) favorite entrepreneur is JW Marriott. If you don't know the Marriott background, there's a nice summary on entrepreneur.com. Here are the cliff notes:

  • He was born into poverty.

  • He raised sheep. (I mean seriously... that's my ultimate goal with my hobby farm.)

  • He purchased an A&W Root Beer stand.

  • Through that A&W stand, he figured out that people who were flying needed food. Airlines did not provide food service at the time.

  • Most entrepreneurs would at that point go open a bunch of A&W stands around airports. JW Marriott did that, but he didn't stop at doing that. He asked himself what else might this underserved customer need?

  • Based on that question, he opened his first motel.

  • You know the rest of that story...

Very few entrepreneurs would do that. Most people - when they have success - do only that one thing. And that includes my father - and largely it includes me. It takes tremendous courage to step outside of what you know and to just follow a customer along their journey.

I love the JW Marriott story because it challenges me to think about DeveloperTown and what I want from my time here. We've had success helping startup founders. (We've had heartache too... but I'm looking past that because I want this to be a feel good email. Stay with me.) As a company, we're now fairly deep in exploring not just the startup entrepreneur's journey, but also the established-company entrepreneur's (aka intrepreneur's) journey.

Currently, we are meeting those customers where we have had success - designing, building, and launching great web and mobile products. And we're doing okay. Our A&W stand is successful. We have a great customer niche. Our job in the next two to five years is to grow that niche. We need need to "open more A&W stands" for our entrepreneurs. We need to serve a product as good as it is now, or better. I want all the airports.  :)

But I don't just want the airports. What else does our customer need? How else can we help them on their journey? Here are some easy answers:

  • Capital

  • Office Space

  • Education

  • Advice and Coaching

  • Introductions to Partners

  • and Help Hiring

Why were those easy for me to rattle off? Because at some point we've helped some subset of our clients with all of those. They are additional pain points on our customer's journey. Imagine a future 15 to 20 years from now (it was 30 years for JWM) where we are purposeful in trying to solve some of those problems for our clients in addition to helping them design, build, and launch great web and mobile products.

I love that idea. It inspires me to see where the DT journey leads. I want to do what we're doing now better than we do it today, but someday I also want to see what else we can do. The JWM story gives me that perspective.

So... Who is your favorite entrepreneur? Why?

If you're willing to share it with this thread, that would be awesome. But it is not required. I decided to share this story because it's meaningful to me. I have a favorite entrepreneur right now who's inspiring me. You may not. That's cool. But if you do have someone that comes to mind, I'd love to learn about them. Who are they, and what makes you excited about their story?

DeveloperTownMichael Kelly