Ben Casnocha is a remarkable guy. Not only is starting and building a multimillion dollar business a difficult task, Ben managed to do it when still in highschool. Starting Comcate, his second company, at the age of 14 meant Ben was doing sales presentations to government officials over twice his age and making last minute business trips while leaving time to make it to school.
Now Ben has just published his first book, My Start Up Life: What a [Very] Young CEO Learned on His Journey Through Silicon Valley.
I recently did an e-mail interview with Ben about his views on life, business and what advice he can offer others:
Scott: You started Comcate, your second company, at 14. What motivated you to start your own business?
Ben: I had a teacher who made us memorize the Apple Computer, “Think Different” ad campaign. The ad concluded, “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones that do.” This mantra and this mandate inspired me to start a business, since starting a business is one of the best ways to have a massive impact.
Scott: One of the concepts you refer to on your blog is a “life entrepreneur.” What does this mean to you and how would you describe it to someone unfamiliar with this philosophy?
Ben: It means adopting the entrepreneurial worldview in all that you do — not just starting a business. It means thinking different, challenging the status quo, striving for impact, and generally maintaining a commitment to carve your own life path and not outsource that vital task to anyone else like a parent or professor.
Scott: You’ve said before that you partake on a high information diet, reading many RSS feeds replying to tons of e-mails and reading dozens of books each year. How do you sort through and absorb all this information?
Ben: Because I’m interested in many things, it’s easy for me to read broadly, since I enjoy it. I also think there are real competitive advantages to being a mile wide.
I have developed a system to deal with all my email and RSS posts. Nothing fancy, just basic principles like prioritization. I always think how I could better optimize my info intake. The key here is that it’s different for everyone — how I process and organize my information diet won’t work for everyone.
Scott: Entrepreneurship and life in general is filled with mistakes. Although your successes have been remarkable, can you recall a specific incident where you didn’t do well? How do you manage the stumbles and plateaus in your progress?
Ben: I’ve stumbled many times. Particularly in sales, many people have told me no and not answered my calls. When I was founding my company I hit a low point when no one seemed to be interested in my product. I overcame this dry stretch by seeking counsel and encouragement from my board of advisers, and then redoubling my efforts. I think it helps to know the bumps will come — when you’re expecting them (even at a general level) it softens the fall.
Scott: Despite your accomplishments, have you found there are areas of your life you have neglected? Or at least did not compare with the remarkability of other areas in your life?
Ben: I’d like to develop more intimate relationships with people. I don’t think I’ve neglected this part of my life, but it’s area rich with growth potential.
Scott: Selling products, starting a business and dealing with people who have had far more experience than you must have been tough at a young age. What did you do to gain the respect or at least the ears of people you dealt with?
Ben: I confronted the issue head on — I acknowledged it as an issue and then told them how I’d deal with it. One of my tactics was to bring with me experienced professionals part of my advisory board, and mooch off their credibility by association.
Particularly due to the internet, anyone can present themselves in a way that’s exceeds the expectations of their given age group.
Scott: What’s the biggest mistake you see new entrepreneurs making today?
Ben: Reluctance to share their ideas. People hold onto to their ideas like they’re special and unique. It’s all about execution, not ideas, so you want to talk to as many people as possible and and enlist their support. Get their feedback.
Scott: You’ve just finished writing your book. What do you see in your upcoming future?
Ben: I’ll be talking to as many people as possible about the book in the short term. In the medium term, I’ll be going to college full-time. In the long term, who knows?
Scott: Thanks for sharing your time and ideas, Ben!