It’s great to live one’s life in the fast lane, and even better to do so with a sense of purpose. This is what I like about Frederic Kerrest. Entrepreneurship is his passion, and everything he does is aimed at honing his skills to become an effective entrepreneur.
From engineering to sales: “I didn’t like talking to computers all day long. I preferred speaking with people”. After six years as a student in Computer Science at Stanford, and employment as a software engineer at Applied Materials, WebTV Networks, Sun Microsystems and Moai Technologies, the entrepreneurship virus hit Frederic, who co-founded an IT Consulting firm with Stanford pals in Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico. This was a challenging, but successful, two-year experience in the midst of the Argentine economic crisis and clearly a fantastic way to learn what the real world is made of. At only (or already) 24, what was he going to do next? Go learn a little bit more about a growing business. He joined Salesforce.com as a sales engineer in 2002, when the company had 125 employees, and he left as a business development manager in 2007. By then, Salesforce.com had become public and had 2,000 people. “Great company, I made some fantastic friends and learned a ton, but after a few years my ‘education’ there was starting to slow down. I had won a couple sales awards, I started the wireless and OEM programs and was managing them successfully, but, by the end of 2006, I wasn’t feeling challenged to my full potential. It wasn’t the same to wake up and get to work in the morning. The company had gotten big and grown up and like all such situations, the job functions started to shrink.”
Why an MBA, and why at MIT? Multiple reasons. He says, “I wanted a change of pace from NorCal and to see what the MIT/HBS/Boston ecosystem was like, to develop a new set of smart friends, to build a new network of partners and professors. Also, although I had learned a lot by transitioning from engineering to sales, I felt I needed to solidify my academic credentials, get an education in finance, and generally speaking, structure what I had learned on the job.” Frederic’s experience at MIT met his expectations, and after only 18 months there, he admits that he feels “more loyalty to MIT than to Stanford.” He points to the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition – which over its 20-year history has spawned successful companies like Akamai Technologies, Zipcar and Guitar Hero – as a perfect example of the entrepreneurial fabric inherent at MIT. “The $100K has enabled me to sharpen my entrepreneurial tool set immeasurably, both as a successful participant and as the competition’s lead organizer. The competition has forced me to focus my ideas and to understand how to build a team, a product with a truly sustainable competitive advantage, a differentiated marketing plan and realistic financial forecast, and all of the other aspects that are essential to a successful startup venture.”
Frederic considers that he was not only able to acquire a theoretical literacy he felt he needed, but also to expand his knowledge in two favorite areas, sales and entrepreneurship in general. He raves about a course offered by Howard Anderson, the founder and former president of The Yankee Group (http://www.yankeegroup.com), who also co-founded Battery Ventures (http://www.battery.com): Technology Sales and Sales Management (http://entrepreneurship.mit.edu/entre_courses.php#15387). Frederic believes that this may still be the only real technology sales class in any of the top five or ten business schools. This class is part of a still relatively new program called Entrepreneurship and Innovation that leads to an MIT Sloan Certificate in Entrepreneurship & Innovation in addition to the regular MBA degree (http://entrepreneurship.mit.edu/E_and_I_electives.php). One of the highlights of this program is the January five-day tour of Silicon Valley for first year students, in which Frederic enthusiastically participated again, but this time as lead TA, helping to manage the 70 participating students – a trip reported by the local edition of ABC News: http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/local/south_bay&id=6592297
As Frederic puts it, “you don’t need an MBA to start a company, but getting an MBA from MIT Sloan not only doesn’t hurt, but can strengthen your determination to become an entrepreneur while providing you with tools that might take years to acquire otherwise. In last year’s class, out of 370 students, 25 started or were part of the founding team of a company – which is a much higher number than you’ll find at Harvard. This year, there will be about the same number of entrepreneurs in my MIT Sloan graduating class. The Harvard entrepreneurs hang out with us at MIT. We have built a good ecosystem and we all meet at a bar in Cambridge. It’s fun and energizing.”
What’s next? “I will start a new software company, in Northern California. I have a number of different ideas that I am working on and testing. I have started to put a team together. It’s a great time to be an entrepreneur. The whole world is falling apart; there are lots of great people ready to start fresh, and change the world. Obviously recessions are not good, but this is also a necessary time to weed out companies that shouldn’t be in business in the first place. It’s a great opportunity. Look at Cisco, Sun Microsystems or Google – they were all started during economic downturns.”
I have worked with quite a few entrepreneurs. Honestly, I have no doubt that Frederic will succeed. I met him a few months ago when he was a Summer Associate at Hummer Winblad Venture Partners (http://www.humwin.com). This job is more complex that one would think. You are in the awkward position of having to sound credible to both the entrepreneurs who visit the firm, and to the venture partners that sponsor your internship. I noticed that he was definitely more than your typical associate through small, yet revealing questions, focusing around execution and goal measurability. Good sign also: he wasn’t pontificating about “sales models” in general, but wanted to know more about the actual selling to customers. I look forward to telling you one day what the product will be about!
For more information about the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition: http://www.mit100k.org/