Practical Entrepreneurship: An Interview with Bob Metcalfe
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
I was born 1946 (the year before the transistor) in Brooklyn, New York and raised on an island, Long Island, just east of Manhattan. I attended MIT (’68) and then Harvard for my PhD (’73). There was no Computer Science then. MIT called it EE. Harvard called it applied math. I became an Internet pioneer starting 1970 at MIT, Harvard, Xerox Parc, Stanford, and 3Com Corporation. In 1972, I moved to Palo Alto to join the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. I invented Ethernet on May 22, 1973 to connect early PCs into a Xerox internal internet. And, founded 3Com in 1979 to commercialize Internet/Ethernet technologies. I took 3Com public in 1984, left at end of 1989. Spent 1990s as a publisher-pundit, CEO of IDG/InfoWorld in Silicon Valley and Boston. Spent 2000s as a VC, Polaris Partner in Boston. Since in 2011, I’ve been working as a Professor of Innovation in Cockrell School of Engineering and Professor of Entrepreneurship at McCombs School of Business. I will be retiring after 11 years this December to start 6th 10-year career, currently TBD.
What are your favorite courses or subjects to teach?
How to innovate with startups. How to sell: Be ready for NO. Listen. Ask why? Make promises and keep bigger and bigger ones.
Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur and what does the word “entrepreneur” mean to you?
Yes, engineer-entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs found companies, startups, under free market capitalism.
How has pursuing entrepreneurial ventures changed you?
Entrepreneurship taught me the importance of selling and the difficulty of scaling.
Has working on your own venture provided you with any unique opportunities?
Over 13 years, I got to do almost every job at my company: founder, chairman, director, CEO, consultant, head of sales and marketing, functional VP, divisional GM, head of PR and advertising, fundraiser, and more.
Is there a single achievement that you are most proud of?
As we were running out of money in 1982, I was “demoted” from CEO to head of sales and marketing. I learned quickly and succeeded, getting us from zero to a million a month in sales before going public in 1984.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced when pursuing your own ventures?
Self-awareness is very hard. So you need advice from people you trust, even if you are CEO.
Do you have pointers for students at UT Austin looking to pursue entrepreneurship?
Ideas are a dime a dozen. You need a team that knows something and can execute on your idea, which will change.
Freedom and prosperity are the goals. They form a virtuous cycle with innovation connecting them. Startups are a high calling.
About the Series
Practical Entrepreneurship features faculty at UT that both teach and have real-world experience with entrepreneurship. By providing insight into each individual’s journey and passions, we are illustrating the many opportunities in academics and throughout life there are to reach fulfillment and success through the pursuit of entrepreneurship.
Lightly edited by Lydia Ward