During the first Power Dinner in 2013, 12 students had the opportunity to dine with Brett Hurt (WG ’99) at the Cira Center. Wharton’s Power Dinners are a great way for current students to interact with alumni in a small group setting, offering each student the opportunity to discuss their interests in the industry with an alumnus. Six students are picked from each year based on a lottery that makes getting into Wharton seem easy. Several students in attendance at the first dinner, including Athena Yang (WG ’13) and Archana Gelda (WG ’14), are focused on entrepreneurship and were very interested in Brett’s experience at Bazaarvoice. Others came from VC backgrounds and were keen to know more about his thoughts on investing.
Brett is both a Wharton and UT-Austin alumnus. He started coding at age 7 and has remained involved in programming for his startups. His involvement in retail started from a young age, since his parents managed a retail establishment in Austin. He has been a serial entrepreneur and his startups include Coremetrics, which was later acquired by IBM for $300m, and Bazaarvoice, a $600m public company focused on the social commerce, analytics and advertising space. Brett is now a Venture Partner at Austin Ventures and remains Vice-Chairman of the Board at Bazaarvoice.
Most of our dinner conversation centered on entrepreneurship and managing companies, and Brett was happy to share lessons that he had learned over the years. As Zachary Simkin (WG ’14) recounted, “What struck me most about the dinner with Brett Hurt is his commitment to helping others through his entrepreneurial exploits.” There were some important takeaways from the discussion for aspiring entrepreneurs:
- Swing for the fences – raise money as needed and create a win-win situation for both the investors and the founders
- Build the right team – test people at the job they will be doing before hiring them. This hiring policy has ensure that Brett has had 10%-20% hiring errors compared to an almost 50% industry norm
- Focus relentlessly on clients – listening to what they have to say and improving their experience
- Leverage CEO coaches – seek advice from those who have been entrepreneurs before and learn from their mistakes
Brett was impressed by how much attitudes towards entrepreneurship at Wharton have changed: “15 years ago there was no Founders’ Club,” he recalled. Brett was one of only a few entrepreneurs at Wharton and his peers respected his work – his unusual habits of staying up all night and coding for his start-ups were featured in the Wharton Journal. He was even referred to as “The Next Benjamin Franklin.” In contrast, last week, over 250 students applied to attend the Power Dinner with the entrepreneur. Brett left us with strong words of advice: “Find your passion. Study it obsessively. Become the foremost authority on the topic and it will seem more like play and less like work.”