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Entrepreneurship News

November 26, 2013

Greg Stone '84: Ask Yourself the Tough Questions

Greg Stone '84: Ask Yourself the Tough Questions


For the past 23 years, Greg Stone ’84 has been a work-from-home “solopreneur” with a virtual corporation of independent contractors, starting at a time when the "home office model" wasn't necessarily considered chic.  “But I would always say,” he explained, “if it's good enough for the president, as the Oval Office is indeed at his home, then it's good enough for me.”   Read what this veteran has to say about starting a business and the lessons he learned along the way.

Tell us about Stone Communications.

Stone Communications offers media consulting and video production services, with the occasional film thrown in for flavoring.  Our most recent venture is a horror movie called The Tidewalkers now in development. Check out the Tidewalkers trailer.

How did your biggest “A-Ha!” moment change your business?

 
I tended to be overly protective of my intellectual property and contacts in the past, so I would say “learning to share.” I now realize that the most open form of promotion is the best, within reason.  I have also learned the value of "soft" networking. Like socializing with no business purpose in mind.  I do this a lot.  My wife often asks me, "Whom are you having lunch with again today?"

How have the classes you participated in at Columbia Business School shaped your business/management approach?

 
Wow.  How much space do I have?  It would not be an exaggeration to say that all of my classes at Columbia Business School have informed just about everything I do.  I learned the conceptual underpinnings of business from the late Professor Bill Evan, who not only gave me confidence as a writer but also became a friend.  Never did a kinder, smarter or gentler soul grace a classroom. 

Then came the inimitable Professor Al Oxenfeld who taught us how to quantify qualitative criteria in a course on executive decision making. For instance, when weighing two job offers, assign dollar values to non-financial factors such as the culture at each company.  A very useful skill.  In frustrating moments as an entrepreneur, I often ask myself, "What is your freedom worth, Greg?"  In all objectivity, I assign a large dollar value to my autonomy, and then I quit feeling sorry for myself and get back to work!
 
Other notables in my memory are finance Professor Norman Toy. Professor Toy had a knack for stretching out the calculations in elaborate fashion, and placing the answer in the lower right hand corner of the blackboard. This was the only spot not covered by the end of class, when he would wrap up with dramatic flourish just as the bell rang.  It was a pleasure to watch his mind whir. 

Also, Professor Pete Garrity, who made business math fascinating; ditto for Professor Gus Grammas who taught statistics and Professor Itzhak Sharav who taught cost accounting.  I remember one day in class Professor Sharav, who was said to have been an Israeli tank commander, asked us how to price a particular product.  A student tentatively suggested calculating the cost, then adding a markup.  Itzhak looked at him like he was crazy.  "What do you charge?  You charge what the market will bear.  And so, we move on."  A great lesson.
 
What tips would you give a company looking to hone their media pitch?

 
Be unselfish.  Don't talk too much about your company.  Instead talk about the audience, not to them.  If you click "About" on my new website for example, you are first directed to "About You," then "About Us."  As far as I know, I am the first to set up the navigation bar this way.  I also realize that I have used the word "about" too many times in this paragraph.

George Balanchine once mocked the hapless guy who goes to the theatre to cry over his own life: “I’m married," he explained, "my wife and children have left me, and I’m unhappy and feel that I’m going to kill myself. And that’s what I think Art is – people should pay me for my story.”

Your customers think the same way.  I say this without cynicism, or disrespect.  They expect service providers to aim for the center of their lives and to immediately grasp the complexities they face daily.  And they are right to do so.
 
What advice would you give to a Columbia student with entrepreneurial aspirations?
 
Ask yourself some tough questions:
 
Can you stomach risk?  Are you willing to spend twice as much money and wait three times as long as you think for measurable results?  Do you covet a steady paycheck and a year-end bonus?  If you answer yes, yes and no, then move on...
 
Are you willing to engage in honest work, with deep concentration, for more than 24 hours in a week?  Of course, you say.  Believe it or not, the average corporate employee may be at the office for many hours, but engages in only three hours of work a day.  Exceed this, and you'll be a rocket by comparison.
 
Is freedom more important to you than power?  And last, do you rely on praise and security?  Does anonymity at the start bother you?  If you answer yes, no and no to these last three questions, start your business tomorrow. 
 
Do you have doubts about all this?  No?  Of course you do, don't lie to me.  Doubts, schmouts, proceed anyway. 

Persistence trumps brains and talent any day.
 

Spring 2014 Events

June 17, 2014

Columbia Business Lab Demo and Mentor Appreciation Reception

 

May 27, 2014

Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Columbia Demo Event
6:00-9:00pm
Venue - Morgan Stanley

 

May 21, 2014

Commencement

 

May 8, 2014

Entrepreneurs in Residence Workshop #6
12:30-2:00pm
Uris Hall Classroom 301

 

May 6, 2014

Lang Fund Board Meeting
9:00-2:00pm
Venue TBD

 

April 28, 2014

Greenhouse Class Reunion Dinner
6:00-8:30pm
Felberg Space, Warren Hall

 

April 21, 2014

Spring Venture Showcase
6:30-9:00pm
Uris Hall Classrooms 301, 303, 329, 331, 333

 

April 17, 2014

Brian Cohen Workshop
12:30-2:00pm
Uris Hall Classroom 142

 

April 15, 2014

Entrepreneur in Residence Austin Okere Workshop
12:30-2:00pm
Uris Hall Classroom 140

 

April 14 2014

Columbia Entrepreneurs Lab Deadline

 

April 11, 2014

#StartupColumbia Festival
Columbia University
 

 

April 10, 2014

Entrepreneur in Residence Jim Moore Workshop
12:30-2:00pm
Uris Hall Classroom 332

 

April 8, 2014

Pitch Workshop with David Rose
12:30-2:00pm
Uris Hall Classroom 301

 

April 7, 2014

Spring Venture Showcase Applications Due
MIDNIGHT via Gust

 

April 3, 2014

The Ecademy Awards
3:30-4:30pm
Alfred Lerner Hall Auditorium

 

March 27, 2014

Entrepreneurs in Residence Workshop #3
12:30-2:00pm
Uris Hall Classroom 307

 

March 27, 2014

Columbia Entrepreneurs Lab Event
6:00-9:00pm
Calder Lounge, Uris Hall

 

March 25, 2014

Columbia Entrepreneurs Lab Event
6:00-9:00pm
Uris Hall Classroom 332

 

March 10-20, 2014

Columbia Business Lab Interviews
9:00-6:00pm
Uris Hall Conference Room TBD

 

March 7, 2014

A. Lorne Weil SharkTank Competition
1:00-6:00pm
Uris Hall Classroom 332

 

March 6, 2014

Entrepreneurs in Residence Workshop #2
12:30-2:00pm
Uris Hall Classroom 307

 

February 27, 2014

Entrepreneurs in Residence Workshop #1
12:30-2:00pm
Uris Hall Classroom 307

 

February, 2014 - TBD

Columbia Business Lab Application - Link opens for submissions
(closes Sunday, March 9)

 

February, 2014 - TBD

Columbia Business Lab Info Session
12:30-2:00pm
Uris Hall Classroom 140

 

February 6, 2014

Lang Center Info Session
12:30-2:00pm
Uris Hall Classroom 140

 

February 4, 2014

Columbia Entrepreneurs Lab Lunch 'n' Learn
12:30-2:00pm
Uris Hall Classroom 333

 

February 3, 2014

Entrepreneurial Sounding Board Begins

 

January 13-17, 2014

Lean LaunchPad Block Week Course