miércoles, 2 de mayo de 2007

John Osher: la historia de un emprendedor serial

Este post es una entrevista a John Osher. Cuanta un poco sobre la historia de este, al que le fue bien, por supuesto. Espero que les sirva de algo.


John Osher likes to joke that his first company — started when he, a kid — peddled porn. Since then, Osher, who's 56, has started half a dozen more companies. Perhaps his best-known venture is the firm that devised the SpinBrush, a low-cost battery-powered toothbrush. Osher and his partners sold the SpinBrush to Procter & Gamble for $475 million two years ago.

In addition, Osher started and sold companies that made energy-saving devices, baby equipment and toys. Not bad for a guy who he took seven years and stints at two other schools before he graduating from Boston University in 1971 with a bachelor's in psychology. Of course, he was busy starting companies then too. One, which he started in Boston, sold antique clothing; another, in Cleveland, sold earrings.

Osher is one of more than a dozen entrepreneurs visting Wharton to meet with Penn students one-on-one as part of the Entrepreneur in Residence program. The program affords any student the chance to share ideas and opinions about a potential venture or simply talk about entrepreneurship

Get it Started! spoke to Osher to get a brief overview of his entrepreneurial career and to find out why meeting students is so important to him.

So what was this porn-peddling venture?

John Osher: When I was 5-years-old, my parents took a painting class at the art school in Cincinnati. At the end of the semester, they brought home their paintings — a bunch of nudes — and put them in the attic. I charged my friends a nickel to go up and see them.

When did you start to make an honest living?

I've never looked for a job if that's what you mean. I don't know how to look for a job. I've never even had a resume. I've always just started companies.

What was your first company after college?

I was a tradesman, a plumber and electrician, for six years. This was the time of the energy crisis, and it led to me starting a company called Con-serv, which made energy-saving devices.

A lot of entrepreneurs are obsessed with high tech. But you prefer consumer products?

My partners and I, we happen to be lovers of the masses, the Wal-Mart buyers, because there's a lot more of them. With the SpinBrush, we were looking for an alternative to the existing electric toothbrushes, which sold for about $100 and were marketed to the elites. We thought that, if we could make a five-dollar version, we could take a significant piece of the manual toothbrush business. And that's what happened.

How'd you make it so cheap?

I'd been in the candy business and worked with this candy called the Spin Pop, which is a mechanical candy toy. So my partners and I had become experts in small motors, gears and batteries — cost efficiency and mechanical efficiency were things we really were good at. We applied that knowledge to toothbrushes.

Your resume — starting businesses as a kid, studying psychology, not business — suggests that entrepreneurs are born, not made. Do you agree?

I believe that the entrepreneurial personality is born. You can't teach someone the personality. What you can teach them is to be better entrepreneurs.

How do you do that?

You teach them about things like how to raise money and how to deal with investors and big companies. You look at case studies of entrepreneurial companies confronting obstacles and how they overcame them. It's one of the reasons I enjoy working with students — I can share my experiences, what I've learned.

Like what?

Like not to fear failure. After I sold my baby-products company [Con-serv, which had expanded to include baby products] to Gerber in 1985, I worked there for about a year and a half as vice president in charge of nothing. I figured out I really wasn't needed there when I came back from two weeks of vacation, and my in-basket was empty. So I decided to leave and start a toy company out of my living room. In the first year, I basically failed and lost all of our money and had to find a way to stay in business. That's the essence of what makes a successful entrepreneur — finding a way. If I wrote a book, that would be the title — Finding a Way. The toy maker went on to become a $125 million company — we developed the Stretch Armstrong toy. I sold the company to Hasbro in 1997.

How did you segue into show business?

My wife and I have gotten involved in producing Broadway musicals. We won a Tony for Hairspray about a month ago and, in October, we're bringing Little Shop of Horrors to Broadway.

And you're still starting companies?

My partners and I just sold a handheld power dish-cleaner, called the Dish Doctor, to P&G two weeks ago.

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