Jeff Hoffman
August 25, 2016
Matthew Patane

Iowans and others looking to start their own companies need to look at everyday problems and think of how to fix them, not just complain about them, according to Jeff Hoffman, an entrepreneur and speaker.

"If you want to be an entrepreneur, next time you see a problem that seems to be bothering a lot of people, instead of going home and complaining, stop and say, ‘Could I fix this? Could I make it better? Is there a more efficient way to do this?'" Hoffman said.

Hoffman, who was part of the founding team of online travel website Priceline, is heading to Iowa City next month to speak at the University of Iowa. The university's John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center is hosting ENTREdays, a three-day series of events to celebrate entrepreneurship.

Hoffman spoke with the Register recently to preview his speech and give some advice to Iowa entrepreneurs. Here's some of what he had to say:

Some questions and answers have been edited for conciseness.

Q: What are you going to talk about next month at the University of Iowa?

A: I am going to talk about the entrepreneurial journey … People see the Mark Zuckerberg, the one-in-a-million lottery person who starts a website and becomes a billionaire. That is not what we want people to think. We need people in agriculture and manufacturing and all kinds of industry solving problems and designing their own future. What I’m going to talk about is the reasons to become an entrepreneur and then the way to become an entrepreneur — what do you need to know if you do want to start your own business and chase your own dreams — and then I’m going to talk about the keys to success.

Q: How do you become an entrepreneur?

A: One is you need to find a real problem to solve. I’m just being honest when I say, I get so many entrepreneurs now that come to me and say ‘here’s what I’m working on’ and it’s a solution looking for a problem … The first thing is looking at the environment around you and trying to find something you can make better, a problem you can fix or an opportunity you see.

The other way is to have an actual purpose: Why are you doing this? What are you trying to achieve and why is it important? The entrepreneurs who are driven by passion and purpose, those are the ones who far outperform the ones who were just doing it for a paycheck.

Q: How do you keep a startup going so it can be successful?

A: The first thing is customer intimacy. What I mean by that is getting out of your office, getting into the problem … the more time you spend out of the office and in the problem around the people who are dealing with that problem and meeting the people who you expect to be your customers the more longevity you will have.

Q: There's a lot of focus on startup investments and raising money. Is raising money something startups have to do?

A: There’s no doubt there’s a point at which a company needs money to grow, however … there’s this excessive focus on the money side of it and raising money …

I think frequently (startups) are pushed to look for money too soon and it makes them less innovative. I always advise startups to bootstrap as long as you possibly can before you ask anybody externally for any money.

Q: There seems to be a bit of a stigma about starting a company in Iowa, the Midwest. Does it matter where you are located when starting a company?

A: It used to matter and it does not anymore, so the answer is no. … The internet, now, you can learn and access anything you need to. In the past, the reason it was easier to do things in Silicon Valley and they had the advantage was the knowledge on how to launch tech companies and the tech skills for everything were centered around there. … there’s just no need to be in Silicon Valley anymore. You can launch a tech company with the right skills and the right people in Des Moines just like you could anywhere else now.

About the event

What: John R. Hughes Lecture Series with speak Jeff Hoffman

When: Tuesday, Sept. 13. Networking from 5 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. Lecture from 5:45 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Where: Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., Iowa City

Cost: Free and open to the public