SAS co-founder and billionaire Jim Goodnight stole the show at CED’s Tech Venture Tuesday with his cutting-edge humor, candid opinions and sage advice. Have you heard what one refrigerator told the other over the Internet?
Goodnight drew some laughter several times during the “Tech Icon” panel discussion Tuesday. But he also was deadly serious at times.
Goodnight said he wished the state government would stop giving firms money (in tax breaks) to come here and compete for talent and drive up salaries, noting his firm would soon be making a major salary adjustment to stay competitive.
Meanwhile, he said, “I want the government to get out of the recruiting business.”
Later, discussing the huge amount of data that the “Internet of Things” would produce, he quipped, “Although I don’t know what the toaster and refrigerator will talk to each other about all day. Dirty kitchen jokes, probably.”
Advice to entrepreneurs abounded during the panel discussion.
Jesse Lipson of Citrix ShareFile, for instance, suggested that startups need to start with an “uncomfortably narrow focus” rather than the type of broad vision a company like SAS evolves over time.
He also said, “I’m a big believer in getting revenue early. If people pay you for your product or service, you know they think it’s a good idea. It’s great validation.”
Chairman and CEO Chuck Swoboda said Cree tries to maintain its entrepreneurial values, not the easiest thing to do with 7,000 employees, “It’s important to remember what made you successful and keep those core values. You don’t want to lose that entrepreneurial spirit.”
Marc Noel of Nomaco chipped in: “I think you (entrepreneurs) have to be a little bit dumb. If you think too much, you’ll get scared and you won’t do it. You have to believe in what you do and if necessary, do it by the seat of your pants.”
Goodnight added that technology alone doesn’t ensure success. “People get so enamored of some tech that they don’t think about whether it will sell. Make sure you’re building something somebody wants or needs and will pay for, that’s my best advice.”
Also, he warned, “Once a hole is deep enough, you should get out. But it’s difficult if you dig it deep enough and spend money on it. We built a game company (Southpeak Games) that had $55 million in revenue. I was proud of that until I realized they’d spent a good bit more.”
All of the panelists shared experiences that made their day as their firms evolved. Goodnight cited the Forbes listing naming SAS the best place to work in America.
Swoboda and Jim Whitehurst of Red Hat both shared stories about employees who let them know how transforming their jobs at Cree and Red Hat respectively, had been.
Note: You can read more from the Icon panel online from Allan Maurer.
The Tech Venture conference concludes on Wednesday.