Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Fred Phillips, President of TANDO Institute, located in Albuquerque, NM, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
We are a think tank/consultancy recently spun out of the University of Texas at Austin. Our 80 Global Fellows are world-class experts in science, engineering, tech commercialization, and tech entrepreneurship. TANDO Global Fellows open new avenues of thinking about global problems, evaluate promising technologies, and assess market opportunities, connecting these to advance the public good.
Our clients are cities and regional authorities, though we have worked for national governments (and sometimes for individual entrepreneurs) and are glad to do so. We believe innovation happens in cities and metro areas, where governments can move more quickly and in a more focused way and are in closer touch with their constituents than provincial or national governing bodies.
Tell us about yourself
I was a VP of the U.S.’ oldest market research firm. Our biggest client was the Coca-Cola Company. Nothing wrong with Coke, but in all honesty, I began to have nightmares that I’d grow old and die, and on my stone, they’d write, “He helped them sell more Coca-Cola.” Coincidentally, as I pondered that there must be more to life, Steve Jobs lured John Sculley of Pepsico to head Apple by taunting him, “John do you want to change the world or peddle soda water for the rest of your life?” That hit me right where it hurt.
Heading the Global Fellows program at UT-Austin was the perfect next job and a great opportunity. Most university researchers stick to their own disciplinary silos. In contrast, the Global Fellows were and are carefully selected for their embrace of interdisciplinary inquiry and dialog with practitioners and for their desire to have their work lead not just to journal publications but to social benefit. It’s a tremendously inspiring group (most of the former UT Global Fellows are now TANDO Fellows), and that fact is what keeps me charged up each day.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
The Fellows were instrumental in transforming Austin, Texas, from a sleepy university and state government town into the vibrant tech-based economy it is today. We’ve replicated that in many cities and countries worldwide. For example, in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency, we created a water-technology industry cluster in the Ohio River Valley that remains vital to this day. We’ve trained representatives from dozens of countries in the developing world on how to create knowledge-based local economies. Every place wants its own Silicon Valley, but few will get one. However, if they take the initiative to try, we want to help.
We now build on our successes in technopolis-building, which was so much in demand in the last two decades, to move to “gaiapolis”-building – that is, helping cities plan for climate change and attract businesses that will thrive while embracing new values of environmentalism, sustainability, governance, and citizenship. This is what’s needed for this decade and beyond.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
With sufficient start-up capital, nothing is difficult – except, perhaps, getting along with your investors! Starting on a shoestring is a different matter, especially if you’ve never done it before. Figuring out the steps to license and register your business, establish tax reporting, and observe employment law, is trying, especially given the opaque nature of government websites. And none of these activities creates any revenue! Advertising definitely creates revenue, but in the past 150 years, no one has figured out how much or where. The big online platforms will promise you “targeted” advertising but will not deliver it. Instead, engage potential customers through carefully placed (and free) social media posts.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
It’s often said that when you start a business, “everyone wants a piece of you.” Each piece you allow them eats away at your margins. Try to outsource the absolute minimum number of services.
Understand what you want to accomplish. An innovative growth venture that will dominate a global market and change the world? Or a small business that may not grow but will make a reliable living for your family? If the latter, do you want it to persist for your next generation to run? Or is your purpose to make enough money to send the kids to college so they can become professionals – and then sell or shut down the business?
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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