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photoWelcome to the “Bend the Curve” blog series! In conjunction with the Techstars Chicago program applications opening today, we are excited to announce the launch of this new book for entrepreneurs, “Bend the Curve,” authored by Techstars mentor, Andrew Razeghi. (More on Andrew below.)

In this handbook for entrepreneurs, Andrew has tirelessly captured the brilliance and insights
of over a dozen of our mos
t sought-after mentors. Everyone from first-time entrepreneurs to seasoned veterans will find useful, practical advice from other founders in this book. 

Over the next several weeks, we will release short excerpts from the book including stories of entrepreneur success and failure. Today, read the story of Chuck Templeton from OpenTable.

Check it out and come back next week for the next installment!

Bend the Curve
Chapter One excerpt: Beginner’s Mind

On May 21, 2009, Chuck Templeton, founder of the popular restaurant reservation system, OpenTable, celebrated yet another milestone for his company at the opening bell of NASDAQ. He even wore a suit (a rarity) and a tie (rarer still). The stock opened at $20 per share and closed at $32 per share (up 60%).

It was pretty cool,” recalls Chuck. “To be up there and to see OPEN flashing all over the place was awesome. NASDAQ was also promoting a bunch of OPEN stuff on the big billboards in Times Square. To see this idea I started, in my bedroom on my little laptop computer, become an idea that attracted thousands of customers, millions of users, hundreds of employees, and an IPO—it was incredible.”

In this chapter, we’ll talk about a few Chuck-isms:

  • Don’t worry. Be scrappy.
  • Manage a white-hot vision with a substandard product.
  • Get others vested in your success.
  • Recruit for uncertainty & deal with doubt.
  • Design for impact.
  • Adopt a penchant for problem-solving & a bias towards action.

Keep in mind, when Chuck started OpenTable back in 1998, most restaurants didn’t have Wi-Fi. No one had Wi-Fi. Few had computers. And, if they did, they likely didn’t have Internet connections. Not only did Chuck need to build a business, he needed to create the infrastructure on top of which he could create his business.

To understand how difficult this was, consider this: In order to win one San Francisco restaurant’s business, Chuck paid to install and run a physical Internet connection to the hostess stand. Given where the hostess stand was located—in the middle of the floor at the front of the restaurant (not near a wall)—this involved jackhammering the designer concrete floor, laying wire, and replacing the floor. It cost him several thousand dollars, but that account was an influential restaurant that many others followed. It mattered. And it worked.

Today, OpenTable serves over 31,000 restaurant customers globally and helps over 12 million diners each month find restaurants. In 2014, 16 years after a Eureka moment inspired Chuck to start the online restaurant reservation service, Priceline acquired OpenTable for $2.6 billion (or $103 per share). Technically, going public is a mechanism for raising capital.  And ringing the bell is not a business goal per se. To quote Facebook founder Mark  Zuckerberg the day he rang the bell: “Here’s the thing. Our mission isn’t to be a public company. Our mission is to make the world more open and connected.”

That said: the bell is symbolic. It’s an entrepreneurial waypoint—public recognition of the struggle (and payoff) associated with building the dream…

Chuck recalls: “[It was 1998 and] I was watching my wife attempt to make restaurant reservations using CitySearch, Microsoft’s Sidewalk, and the Zagat Guide, which was not online yet. She spent three-and-a-half hours one Saturday morning trying to make restaurant reservations for the next Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. She left several messages, asked about menu items, etc. I thought, ‘There has to be a better way.’

I had a few friends that were starting companies in Silicon Valley and I thought that if they can do it, I could do it. I tried to get a job at like ten other Internet startups and no one would hire me. I didn’t have enough Internet experience (in 1998!). I had a professor in my first attempt at an MBA that said the key to being successful in the Internet world was to make the way people were doing things in the real world exactly the same way in the virtual world. This would help to reduce the learning curve for customers to adopt anything new. And so that’s what I did.

We emulated exactly how restaurant hostesses took reservations. We didn’t try to come up with some new way to do things. We just did the same things they normally did offline, online. For my market research, I hung out in a ton of restaurants, always near the hostess stands so I could listen to how they took calls. I wrote down exactly how they answered the phones when calls came in for reservations: What did they say when they picked up the phone? What questions did they ask? In what order did they ask these questions? And so on.

We designed OpenTable to emulate these actions. We made it easy. And it worked.”

To keep reading and to order the book visit: http://bendthecurve.co/  

About the Author

Andrew Razeghi is  an educator, author, speaker, consultant, angel investor and Techstars mentor. He is a lecturer at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and is also founder & managing director of StrategyLab, Inc., a growth strategy & innovation consulting group.

Andrew is also a contributor on the topic of innovation for a series of shows on The Travel Channel and is the author of several books including The Future of Innovation, The Upside of Down: Innovation through Recessions, and The Riddle: Where Ideas Come From and How to Have Better Ones. The Riddle was chosen by Fast Company as one of its “Smart Books.” You can reach Andrew by email at andrew@strategylab.com or follow him on twitter @andrewrazeghi.

Kerri Beers
Director of Marketing at Techstars

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    Aside from being incredibly genuine people, Andrew has assembled a cadre of great mentors and educators in their own right. The stories they’ve shared have been insightful for me personally, and I’ve seen their hyperactive enthusiasm echo throughout the Techstars community. I’d recommend everyone take the time to enjoy what they have to share.