Entrepreneurs Share How They Built It at Summit Panel

Apr 30, 2013

Summit attendees take notes during the WSJ 'How I Built It Panel' at America's Small Business Summit, April 30, 2013. (Photo: David Bohrer / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce)

Five successful entrepreneurs at different stages of their companies’ development appeared at America’s Small Business Summit 2013 to talk about the future of startups, scaling their businesses, and branding for longevity.

The Wall Street Journal's Small Business Editor Vanessa O’Connell moderated the Journal’s “How I Built It” panel discussion during the U.S. Chamber’s April 29-May 1 event in Washington D.C.

Rafat Ali, CEO and Founder of Skift, an early-stage travel intelligence startup,  and fellow panelist Scott Griffith, former chairman and CEO of recently-acquired Zipcar car-sharing service talked about the increased growth in startups in the “collaborative consumption” industry, where inventory, like cars, for example, is shared. “It’s really changing how people look at ownership,” Ali said.

Griffith says he’s also seen an uptick in the number of transportation-based startups, such as Uber, a GPS-enabled cab service that has rolled out across the country. “This year’s SXSW was dominated by startup transportation models,” Griffith said.

The big question on everyone’s mind was what Griffith might do next now that Zipcar has been acquired by Avis for $500 million. “I feel like I’ve got one more in me,” Griffith said, and hinting that he might do some angel investing in the near future. “It’s a fantastic time to be in a high-growth, early stage environment.”

Robert L. Johnson, chairman of the RLJ Companies and founder of Black Entertainment Television, says there are plenty of demographic and cultural trends that create opportunity for investors such as himself, particularly in health care and the leisure, lifestyle and well-being industries.

Most small businesses want to grow, and there are two ways to make money to fund that growth, Griffith said: “go public or be sold to a strategic buyer. Zipcar ended up doing both.” Angie Hicks, founder and chief marketing officer of Angie's List, just took her consumer rating and review website company  public a year ago after 16 years. “It was the natural evolution of the company,” Hicks says.  

From a branding standpoint, the entrepreneurs agreed that a business owner has to extend their brand to all parts of the company. “You have to decide what you’re attempting to deliver, decide who you are going to be.” Angie’s List, for example, is all about the customer. “We have a saying, ‘the tie goes to the customer,’” which is basically just another way of saying that, ‘the customer’s always right, Hicks explained.


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