Priceline founder Jeff Hoffman shares secrets of startup success

Listen to entrepreneur's Cincinnati appearance

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati’s startup community is moving in the right direction, serial entrepreneur and Priceline founder Jeff Hoffman told a group of entrepreneurs and investors at a Cintrifuse event recently.

Hoffman is best known as a founder and CEO of Priceline.com. He was invited to speak in Cincinnati by Loose Button Media Group, a Toronto –based company that works with Procter & Gamble and presents a Food for Thought Lunch Series where well-known entrepreneurs share their insights in a question-and-answer format.

WCPO Business Reporter Dan Monk was the guest interviewer.

Listen to the full interview

“Great ideas are not inherent to Silicon Valley,” Hoffman told a crowd of about 20 attendees, including local venture capitalists Jack Wyant and John McIlwaine. “Our people are just as smart right here in Ohio as they are anywhere else. What they do better is they have an infrastructure where everybody in the community cares about the success of startups. We have to evolve to that a little bit more.

Hoffman is an Inc. magazine columnist whose roster of successful startups has included the independent production company Black Sky Entertainment and online shopping sites, uBid.com and RedTag.com. He is active in the startup communities of Cleveland and Chicago, where he operates startup “idea accelerator,” called ColorJar LLC.

“The scarcest resource for a startup, by the way, is not money. It’s talent,” Hoffman advised Cintrifuse visitors in the Nov. 14 event. “There’s way more people that can write a check than there are people who can co-found a company with you and help you build the thing. What we don’t want is talent leaving Ohio, leaving Cincinnati or leaving the country and we don’t want to prevent talented people that want to come here to help.”

Hoffman is a gifted story teller who regaled the group with tales of his early startups, including one that became an Inc. magazine column, entitled, “Hire the best people and then go pick up their dry cleaning.” The story comes from an experience where a “hot shot internet guy” was designing “the best product I’d ever seen.”

When Hoffman peaked his head into the room where a team of code writers were working, he asked if there was anything they needed.

“The kid said, ‘Yeah, can you go pick up my dry cleaning?’ Everybody gasped … I said, ‘Where’s the ticket?’”

Moral of the story, said Hoffman:  “The only way to scale a business is to hire people way smarter than you and then get out of their way.”

 

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