Entrepreneurs Encouraged to Keep Going, No Matter What
By Dave Hendrick
J. Byrne Murphy (MBA ’86) has made a hugely successful career by overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
Keynoting the University of Virginia Darden School of Business Entrepreneurship Conference on 29 January, Murphy, the CEO of Kitebrook Partners and chairman of Digiplex, encouraged unwavering perseverance in pursuit of an entrepreneurial vision, telling the would-be and current business owners that a successful entrepreneur must “never, never, ever give up.”
Certainly, most would have forgiven Murphy if he had given up at various junctures of his career, as his work exporting the American concepts of outlet centers, data centers and private residence clubs to countries across Europe met with all manner of obstacles over the years, including vindictive politicians, extortion attempts, economic collapses and mafia interference, to cite just a few.
(Murphy chronicled his adventures attempting to open outlet centers across Europe in his award-winning 2008 memoir, Le Deal.)
Despite the radically different products offered by each of his primary ventures, in each case Murphy ultimately succeeded in what he referred to as “playing the product lifecycle.”
Murphy took concepts that, while relatively new in the United States, had almost no presence in Europe, making him confident in the upside for his untested products. Critically, Murphy also believed in the use cases of all of his ventures.
“If you are pioneering a really good concept in a new market, how much of real consequence can really go wrong?” Murphy asked. “Everyone wants Dior at half-off!”
Moreover, Murphy said, if there are only a few obstacles standing between your new idea and “the adoring public,” the entrepreneur can never give up.
In Murphy’s case, the adoring public for his ventures has been outlet shoppers who want their discount couture, tenants such as NASDAQ who require consistent and secure data centers, and luxury home buyers eager to live in a 15th century palazzo that was once home to the Medici family.
Murphy, who eventually grew the outlet center and data business centers into businesses with more than $1 billion in assets under management each, credited what he described as broadly American attributes of pragmatism, optimism and realism for his success, but also cited the specific skills honed at Darden — even if he didn’t realize their importance at the time.
Indeed, Murphy described classes in analysis and communication and organizational behavior, respectively, as his two least favorite and, in hindsight, most important classes.
As an entrepreneur seeking to create a company culture, those who are deficient in “people skills and communication skills” will be at a severe disadvantage, Murphy said.
Encouraging the capacity crowd to pursue their entrepreneurial leanings despite the odds and obstacles, Murphy noted that the born entrepreneur would never regret having tried and failed, but he or she would “bitterly regret not having tried.”
The conference, which was organized by Darden’s student-run Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Club and the Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovationand sponsored in part by the venture-focused law firm of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati (WSGR), came during a momentous time for startup growth and development around UVA. The National Venture Capital Association on 27 January reported that the Charlottesville, Virginia, area had experienced the greatest growth of its venture capital ecosystem since 2010. The organization reported a 55.2% rise in funding over the period, with nine companies in Charlottesville receiving $27.7 million in venture funding in 2015.
Many of the funded companies have direct connections to UVA, with some participating in Darden’s startup incubator programming .
Would-be entrepreneurs looking to add to the local ranks received all manner of advice and inspiration from the programming at the conference, with panels devoted to everything from forming a startup entity to raising funds. Attendees also heard stories of startup successes and failure, and concluded the conference with a venture and prototype fair at the i.Lab, where the education-focused Web app Helme took the top prize of $10,000 worth of legal services from WSGR.
Also honored were Darden student John Greenfield’s (Class of 2016) medical data platform Janus.io and the music sharing service Palooza.
All three winning ventures received a $250 prize.
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D. and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Director of Media Relations
Darden School of Business
University of Virginia