I want to start by acknowledging Seth Kravitz and his many contributions to the city and to our tech scene which is so radically different today than it was just a few years ago in 2010 when Technori was founded. He’s been a mover and a shaker – a history recorder and maker – and an example of all the ups and downs that are part of the life of any decent entrepreneur. I feel like I have lived through several of these lifetimes with him so I’m especially pleased to be here tonight.
Seth never quit, gave up, or stopped trying to change things for the better – to share his insights, wisdom and oratorical gifts with the rest of us – and to take advantage of whatever opportunities and challenges the world presented. This is an important lesson for all of us. Being smart doesn’t mean you make all good decisions. It means you learn just as much from your stupid ones as from the smart ones and that you make the best of all of them. The name of the game is to WIN, not to be right all the time.
I was the subject of one of Seth’s earliest profile pieces and I was the keynote speaker at Technori’s first birthday party in December, 2011 way back when when HERE was a location - not a company’s name – and when NAVTEQ was the place where the birthday party was held. And a couple of years later, I gave the keynote at the 2013 Technori Auto Show event where I had the privilege of telling all the OEM manufacturers why no one under 25 was ever gonna buy a car from them again. Zipcar had a great motto at the time. They said they were “the car for people who didn’t want one” and we had no idea just how true that would come to be. UBER had been founded four years before in 2009 – and the world still thought that UBER was a German adverb and not Conan the Destroyer-to-be which would slowly demolish the cab business.
And though he’s not a native, Seth’s always been a big Chicago booster as well. One of the decisions I’m proudest of was staying in Chicago and building almost all of my businesses here when New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and Washington, DC repeatedly beckoned. It was the right choice, Chicago’s always been home to me, and it’s a place (and a tech community) that I couldn’t be prouder to be a small part of. I’m grateful to my city and to all of the people who are here tonight who’ve been important friends, partners, investors, mentors and team members at critical times throughout my own particular journey.
I’ve been engaged in this crazy process of trying to imagine, invent and then bring the future to life across half a dozen very different industries ranging from autos and insurance to education and entertainment for more than 50 years. And I’m beyond grateful because I can’t think of a single time in my entire career when I’ve asked for help, guidance, support or even prayer and anyone here ever turned me down. That’s the Chicago way – pushing people forward and extending a hand back to help those coming up behind.
I say every day that no one does anything important these days all by themselves. Anyone who believes that he or she is self-made has a very selective memory. I’m privileged every day at 1871 – with the help of a great team as well as enormous support from the community – to spend my time helping the next several generations of entrepreneurs pursue their hopes and dreams and turn them into real businesses. Spreading the gospel of growth and the joy of job creation and sharing the stories of what we’re building every day throughout the city is something I’d be happy to do for free.
I’ve learned that building a business and making a difference isn’t like running a Burger King, you really don’t get to have it your own way. But, I can tell you that, in my life, even with all the exciting ups and the difficult downs, I wouldn’t change a thing. But I do wish that I knew everything then that I know now. So, let me share just 3 simple ideas with you drawn from my long and painful past experiences:
(1) Make It Personal
People who say “it’s just business, nothing personal” are full of shit. They don’t have the fire or the desire to succeed as entrepreneurs because they’ve forgotten (or never learned) the most basic rule that: the one who cares the most wins. No one cares how much you know (or how smart you are) until they know how much you care – about them, about the mission, and about succeeding. Don’t tell ‘em; show ‘em. You can’t win a race with your mouth.
(2) Make the Most of It
No one gets hired these days to sit around and eat pieces of chocolate cake. Every day is a race to get bigger and better – to do things cheaper, faster, smarter, more accessibly, etc. – and no one is going to wait for you. But the trick is to step into these challenges and look at them as opportunities rather than obstacles – as chances to show your mettle and prove your worth – to be the one that people can count on in the clutch times – the go-to guy or girl. The best entrepreneurs all share a common mindset: “if you’re not moving forward, someone else will be” – and a common attitude; “sometimes wrong, but never in doubt”. Your faith (especially in yourself) needs to be stronger than your fear.
(3) Make It Matter
My worst fears were never about failing. Failing is just part of the process. The real devastating fears were about spending a significant part of my life doing something that really didn’t matter. Life’s too short for that and it’s important to spend your precious time here trying to make a difference – not just in your own life - but in the lives of others as well. We’re not all gonna cure cancer next week, but it’s an important discipline to take the time to ask yourself whether what you’re doing every day is worth doing and doing with all your heart and soul. If you can’t answer with a resounding “yes”, go find something else to do. The greatest luxury in life isn’t getting another house or a big new car, it’s being able to go to work every day and be excited and enthusiastic about what you’re doing and why. And, as we know at 1871, it doesn’t hurt a bit to be surrounded by hundreds of others going through the same struggles, doubts, and pain and loving it all the same.
We live in the greatest city, in the greatest country in the world, and the future is scary, uncertain and exciting – all at the same time. But together, we can keep inventing it, building it and making it better – because that’s what entrepreneurs do.
Thank you and congrats again to Seth and Technori.