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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Utah entrepreneurs urge passion for projects, giving back

This article came after a visit to BYU Hawaii

By Mike Foley
Media Relations, (808) 293-3699
March 15, 2005

Tim Stay and Rich Christiansen shared salient tips
during the School of Business Entrepreneurship Lecture Series

A pair of Utah-based Internet entrepreneurs told BYU-Hawaii students in the School of Business lecture series on March 15 that to be successful, they need to be passionate about their ideas; then when they're successful, they need to be passionate about giving to the less fortunate.
Tim Stay, who lived in Laie as a child, was a civil engineer with an MBA and a master's in international economic development focusing on third world countries when he realized that "entrepreneurship is an effective tool to drive that development."

After working in Guam for a few years he decided, "I needed to get into business." So he moved back to Utah and started a call center, one of his MBA research projects for which he got a 'C', "but the business turned out better than my paper."
"Within a few years we had over 1,200 employees and were doing close to $20 million in revenues. This was in the mid-90s, and we saw there was this new thing called the Internet. At the height of the internet craze we had over 300,000 accounts," said Stay, who sold that business and got involved with a business incubator.

"We would find smart engineers and entrepreneurs who had good ideas, but didn't know how to wrap a business around it." He also partnered with Rich Christiansen, and together they run Northsky Inc. and Tornado Solutions, Inc. — an Internet service company and online media publishing company, respectively.

"I call myself a perfectly good engineer who went bad. At some point a button switched, and I realized I was a lot better at business than I was as an engineer. My true passion, however, is entrepreneurship and running small companies," said Christiansen, who formerly ran Mitsubishi in the U.S.

The partners, who are ranked among the top 100 entrepreneurs in Utah, shared a long list of entrepreneurial tips, including:

"Be a catalyst for change. I can guarantee if you're on the leading edge of change you're going to have a much higher probability of success," said Christiansen.

"Differentiate yourself. In a business sense, you go across a bridge, then burn the bridge behind you," he said, explaining this creates barriers to competition.

"Dream about your finances at night. Most small businesses fail because they fail to plan their finances carefully. Cash flow is king," he said, also stressing many companies carry too much inventory.

"Just get out there and do it, but try to learn from other people's mistakes. If you aren't making some mistakes, you aren't trying hard enough," he added, quoting the full version of President Spencer W. Kimball's well-known admonition: Do it, do it now, do it with a purpose, and make no small plan, for it has not the magic to stir the soul of man.

"It's critical to understand what your critical variables are," said Stay. "What are those two or three things that if you manage to stay on top of every day, your business will survive."

"Become a student of your business. I try to be an expert in whatever business I'm running. I try to become as educated as I can," he added

"An entrepreneur should know what his break-even point is each day. If you're profitable every day, you'll be profitable at the end of the month. If you're profitable every month, you'll be profitable at the end of the year."

"I love digital assets, or things that can be reproduced digitally. The costs of reproducing them are miniscule," said Stay, pointing out that "Microsoft's margins are so good because they're selling digital assets: They come up with an idea and sell it over and over again.

"Be passionate. Entrepreneurs are usually passionate about what they do, and find passion in their activities and hobbies."

Stay also encouraged entrepreneurs to be "passionate about giving back. My way of doing this is through Unitus, a global microfinance accelerator that gives small loans to the very poor." For example, he told of a woman in India who worked as an indentured servant for 25 rupees a day. She used an 8,000 rupee micro-loan (about $200) to buy a water buffalo, which has dramatically changed the quality of her life.
"What we've found with micro-credit, as people go through this program we see their education, nutrition and housing improve. We've found this to be a very effective tool," Stay said, next quoting Ghandi: My life is my message.

"What is my life about?" he asked, "and I want to ask you, what will your message be?"


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