What a 20-year old entrepreneur can teach us about Silicon Valley

By February 29, 2008

Ben Casnocha, a born and raised San-Franciscan, has seen it all. At 12 he started his first company right when the dotcom bubble burst. At 16 he was the CEO of Comcate, his second company, an e-government technology firm. At 17 he was nominated ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ by Inc Magazine. And by the age of 19 Ben had published his first book: “My Start-Up Life”: What a [Very] Young CEO Learned on His Journey Through Silicon Valley. L’Atelier caught up with Ben, now a college student at Claremont McKenna College in Los Angeles for a few words of wisdom. Considering his young age and his years of experience Ben Casnocha seems pretty well grounded. “It didn’t start with a dream. It didn’t start in a garage”, he readily admits in the first chapter of his book recalling his journey through entrepreneurship. Ben’s adventure started in a classroom when he was in sixth grade. His first company (ComplainandResolve.com) was a school project taken to the next level by an ambitious teen. “In my technology class we brainstormed a business idea but there was no follow-through. I went to the computer lab every day over the summer and turned our discussion into something real,” he


Lesson number 1 to the aspiring entrepreneurs of the world: entrepreneurship is a life philosophy rather than a business idea. You don’t need to start your own business to be an entrepreneur. “An entrepreneur to me is basically anyone who thinks entrepreneurially, who thinks creatively and optimistically, who tries to challenge the status quo,” he says. ‘It’s about asking questions and trying to make the world a better place. And that doesn’t have to happen just in the confines of Silicon Valley.”

Lesson number 2: Act rather than dream. “Entrepreneurs actually go and do stuff. They are not dreamers, they are doers. They don’t expect anything, they don’t like writing plans or talk to consultants,” he explains.

Lesson number 3: Big, fat business plans are something of the past. “The problem with the big, fat plan is that: (a) no one will read it, (b) it is out of date the minute your print it, and (c) you’ve killed too many trees. Business plans are only useful as thinking exercises.

Lesson number 4: Age does not really matter. The Internet is making age less and less relevant and young people tend to be more tech-savvy than the older generation. As a result you have to stand more on what you do and what you are delivering.

Lesson number 5: Starting a business when times are bad is always a good thing. “I started my company during the worst time in Silicon Valley which I think was a good thing because everyone was refocusing on business fundamentals,” says Ben.

When asked about the importance of the valley in the culture of entrepreneurship Casnocha argues that Silicon Valley is both a place and an idea. “And the strength of that idea ?entrepreneurship as a concept of breeding people who want to go and change the world? is that it has been globalized. Even in economies and cultures that historically haven’t been very entrepreneurial people have been able to read blogs and books and managed to externalize that spirit and carve their own entrepreneurial path. Of course the physical valley still exists and is as dominant as ever but my guess is that over the next 50 years it will decrease in importance,” he predicts.

For more on Ben Casnocha’s experience go to http://www.mystartuplife.com/

By Anne Senges, for Atelier

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