What are you most focused on right now?
Helping other people with their businesses — that’s not just being nice; it exposes me to a wide range of other entrepreneurial thinking. Some things can be invented by focusing on narrow subject matter but it’s not how I work. I’m more of a synergist. I like to understand broad areas and look for overlap. At a certain point in the discovery process, you hurt yourself a lot if you limit your areas of interest.
What is your involvement at Dingman and why is it a special place?
I don’t know if the Dingman Center is unique, but it’s very rare. This is a well-established organization, which has a good focus on true entrepreneurship.
What is “true entrepreneurship”?
An organization that is about true entrepreneurship cannot be too focused. The beauty of focus is that it allows you to get a lot done, but that can limit what else you see. A true entrepreneur is always heads-up, always looking for what he or she doesn’t know.
What do you think of the DC area as a place to start a business?
DC is a good place to start a company. It has a very, very different culture and mindset than Silicon Valley. It’s very different from Boston as well. DC right now is trying hard to move from the “good place to start up” to the “great place to start up”. There’s a huge effort by cashed-out entrepreneurs and by company founders to coalesce around this region and to get it to the next tier.
What is the single most important piece of advice you could give going into an investor pitch?
Understand who your customer is. It’s usually the guy writing the check. Also, understand your cost inputs. Many, many people who are new at this show up and say, “I’m giving my labor for free”. You need to be sure to include those costs.
Also, it’s not just your business, it’s you. Many venture capitalists who I’ve met with say, “we bet on the jockey, not on the horse”. What I mean by that is that they’d rather have a great entrepreneur taking a shot at a decent opportunity than a decent entrepreneur taking a shot at a great opportunity. A startup company is the creature of the people who start it.
Mr. Humphrey is an Internet pioneer and “Father of Managed Hosting” who resides in Laurel, Maryland. He has been the CEO of Joss Heavy Industries since 2004 where he also directs the Joss Research Institute, a 501(C)3 non-profit doing scientific research in a wide array of subject areas. He also mentors startup companies at the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship. Perhaps best known for co-founding Digex in 1992, Humphrey took the Internet Service Provider public and sold it in 1997 to Intermedia Communications Inc. WorldCom then bought Intermedia in 2001 and it is now a part of Verizon.