Video Transcript

00:09 Ted Leonsis: It's great to see everyone here and we're in Washington DC, and just coming in I met so many people that I know, fellow entrepreneurs, and my regret is that there aren't literally hundreds of senators and congressmen and our President attending here because you'll save the country from the mess that we're in right now and just if they could breathe this, that would be terrific.

00:39 Leonsis: So I started my first business here in Washington DC as a student at Georgetown University. It was 1976. I was a junior in college and I read an article that said there would be 30 million Americans coming to be tourists in Washington DC to celebrate the bicentennial, and my instinct said that was a big market and I needed something to sell them. So I started a company called Snoco Loco Inc., and we sold red, white and blue snow cones. Be a patriot, eat a snow cone. And I learned a lot about business with that first endeavor in 1976-1977. My daughter is now a sophomore at Georgetown University and we just moved into a new house and I found the snow-cone machine and a couple of weeks ago, she said, "Daddy, can I bring the snow cone machine back to Georgetown University?" And so she's in the business now, so if you have any time and it's hot out, you can go eat red, white and blue snow cones at Georgetown again.

01:49 Leonsis: My first job out of college was with a company called Wang Laboratories. Wang was headquartered in Lowell, Massachusetts, and a couple of years into my career, I was promoted to be head of marketing communications of the company, and I met a man named Bernie Goldhirsh, 1979. Bernie who had started Sail Magazine and sold it to start Inc. Magazine on a wharf in Boston, Massachusetts, and he came out to meet me and he mesmerized me. He was the most compelling individual to articulate how intrinsically American being an entrepreneur is. And I really fell in love with the guy and I told him that, and being an entrepreneur, he said, "Good, you can show your love by giving me a big ad campaign," and Wang Laboratories became one of their biggest advertisers. In 1981, I left Wang and started my own company.

02:55 Leonsis: So my first company, through the inspiration of being in a grocery store, checking out of the grocery store and seeing a TV Guide, I had never seen or bought a TV Guide magazine, and it said, "The number one best-selling magazine in America, TV Guide." And I bought the magazine and the front of the book was articles and interviews with television directors and movie stars, and the back of the book was a directory, what programs worked on what channels and what networks. I said, "I can't believe this is the number one best-selling magazine in America," and I threw it out and later that day went in front of my Apple II computer with two programs on the side, and I got hit, whacked on the side of the head 'cause I looked at this computer and I said, "This looks like a television." It's got a screen and there are programs and TV Guide was talking about programs and I'd just come back from the West Coast Computer Faire, spent times with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, met a guy named Doctor Metcalfe, who's about to introduce Ethernet, that's a network.

04:21 Leonsis: And I said, "I bet you this will all come together, that TVs will be indistinguishable from computers, and networks and programs will take on a much higher calling," and so I quit my job. I wrote a business plan and I started a company called LIST, the Leonsis Index to Software Technology. In front of the book, I created a database of every third-party software, hardware product that worked with every platform in every computer, and I launched it right as IBM introduced the PC, in 1981. We had a hit right out of the gate. It really took off. We were first in the field. I then went back to Apple. Apple was about to introduce the Mac in '84 and we created a Macintosh Buyer's Guide that Steve put in with the first two million Macs that shipped. We were young, we were hot, and I was a poor kid growing up, my dad was a waiter, didn't go to college. My mom was a secretary. Went to Georgetown, started this business, and in 1984 the company was acquired by a very, very big publishing company for 67 million dollars.

05:44 Leonsis: And so I lived the dream, just like everyone in the room either has or wants to. I started a company. I grew it really fast and I made a lot of money, and I declared victory. That's what we do, right? We're programmed along the lines that if you work really hard, you get good grades. If you get good grades, you will get a good job. If you get a good job you will make money. If you are fortunate, you will be able to start your own company. If you start your own company, you will sell it, you will make a lot of money, and then you will be happy. That success will lead to happiness, that's what we have been ingrained with. That's the entrepreneurial dream. And so I sold my company and I didn't feel happy, I felt like I had sold out.

06:38 Leonsis: And I was struggling personally with, is this the process and is it about the exit that we should be focused on? And then I got on the wrong airplane and hopefully some of you have read my book 'The Business of Happiness,' and if you haven't I will give you a little crib sheet on it. I got on the wrong airplane and the plane had lots of mechanical issues and it's a very humbling experience to be on the plane that's jettisoning fuel and about to make an emergency landing and as we were going down people were crying, people were praying and started to pray, it seemed like the right thing to do. And I got a couple of minutes into prayer and I started to laugh at myself because it was so inauthentic, I am not that religious. And all I could think of was, as if God were tuning and listening to me right now and what would his reaction be, and probably it would be, "Oh, sure, now you need me." And so I reverted the type and I started to negotiate.

07:49 Leonsis: And I honestly said, "Let me get through this and I promise I'll leave more than I take." That was the elevator pitch. And I made it through and I was changed. I got this mulligan, but I didn't know what to do. There was no guide, there was no playbook. And so the following weekend, I sat down and I made a list of 101 things to do before I die that would hopefully provide a playbook for living a life without regret and hopefully leaving more than I take. I am not very proud of the list. If you go to my blog you can find it, it's out there. So I was young man when I made it, but it was my first attempt at saying I had a reckoning, we all have reckonings. Someone you love will break your heart. Someone you love will pass away, you will have a health scare, you will have a financial setback. We live lives of reckonings and then from that reckoning, you pivot and you do something positive. To me it was... The first attempt was making that list.

Published on: Aug 8, 2012