Apr 26, 2023 | 6 min read

Bill Aulet

Podcast #204 Disciplined Entrepreneurship


Disciplined Entrepreneurship


In this week's episode, Ken Forster interviews  Bill Aulet, Managing Director, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, and Ethernet Inventors Professor of the Practice, MIT Sloan School of Management.

The Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship promotes education and innovation-driven entrepreneurship. It offers resources for starting and growing new ventures and is a hub for entrepreneurship research and collaboration at MIT. 


Professor Bill Aulet is an award-winning educator and author who is transforming the way entrepreneurship is taught and practiced globally. With over 25 years of experience in successful business ventures, he has raised over $100 million and created shareholder value worth hundreds of millions of dollars. He is currently the Professor of the Practice at MIT Sloan, responsible for leading entrepreneurship education across MIT's Trust Center since 2009.


Aulet's book, Disciplined Entrepreneurship, released in 2013, has been translated into more than 20 languages and has been the basis for three online edX courses taken by hundreds of thousands of people in 199 countries. The accompanying Disciplined Entrepreneurship Workbook was released in 2017, and both books are used to teach entrepreneurship at hundreds of universities worldwide.


Aulet has an extensive publication record in highly regarded outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and MIT Sloan Experts. He is also a sought-after public speaker and has been featured on programs such as CNBC's Squawk Box and BBC News, sharing his insights at events and conferences around the world. Aulet holds degrees from Harvard and MIT and has served on the boards of several US public tech companies.


Discussion Points:

  • What would you consider your digital thread (the one or more thematic threads that define your digital industry journey)?
  • What did you learn at IBM that prompted you to start your own startups, given that your origin story is rooted in direct operational roles at IBM and three startups?
  • Let's briefly discuss your startup experience, including co-founding Cambridge Decision Dynamics, SensAble (which was sold to 3D Systems), and serving as CFO of Viisage. If you had to summarize your time in three lessons learned regarding entrepreneurship, what would they be?
  • Let's fast forward to your current role at MIT, leading the development of entrepreneurship education across the Trust Center. Can you describe this program and your responsibilities in this position?
  • You authored your first book, "Disciplined Entrepreneurship," in August 2013, followed by the "Disciplined Entrepreneurship Workbook" in 2017. What is "Disciplined Entrepreneurship"?
  • Can entrepreneurship be taught or only learned through experience, given the popular belief that the most successful entrepreneurs drop out of college to pursue their startups?
  • How does your book complement well-known Silicon Valley texts such as Eric Ries' "The Lean Startup" and Peter Thiel's "Zero to One"?
  • With your extensive knowledge of startups, are there specific sectors, geographies, or founder profiles that you're keeping an eye on?
  • As we record this, the ramifications of Silicon Valley Bank's collapse are being felt, including by Momenta and our portfolio companies. What lessons can we learn from this crash?
  • To what degree are Remote Asset Management, Resilience, and Renewables driving future business, especially given recent geopolitical events?
  • What do you see as the key trends and disruptions in global energy, including the role of Digital technology, in the next 10 years?
  • What were your key use cases and accomplishments leading Software & Analytics in the early days of digital energy?
  • Given your close connection with the startup community, can you share some interesting startups you're following?


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View Transcript


Good day, and welcome to episode 204 of our Momenta Digital Thread podcast series. Today, I'm pleased to host Professor Bill Aulet, Managing Director at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, and Ethernet Inventors Professor of the Practice at MIT Sloan School of Management. Professor Aulet is changing how entrepreneurship is understood, taught, and practiced worldwide. He's an award-winning educator and author whose current work is built off the foundation of his 25-year successful business career, first at IBM and then as a three-time serial entrepreneur. During this time, he raised over $100 million and, more importantly, created hundreds of millions of dollars of shareholder value through his companies. Since 2009, he has been responsible for leading the development of entrepreneur education across MIT at the Trust Center, where he became a Professor of the Practice at MIT Sloan in 2017. His first book, "Disciplined Entrepreneurship," released in August 2013, has been translated into over 20 languages and has been the content for three online edX courses, which have been taken by hundreds of thousands of people in 199 different countries. The accompanying follow-on book, "Disciplined Entrepreneurship Workbook," was released in April 2017. The material from these two books is used to teach entrepreneurship in hundreds of universities worldwide. He's widely known and published in places such as The Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, The Boston Globe, The Sloan Management Review, The Kauffman Foundation, Entrepreneur Magazine, MIT Sloan Experts, and more. He has also been a featured speaker on shows such as CNBC, Squawk Box, BBC News, and Bloomberg News, as well as events and conferences worldwide. He has degrees from Harvard and MIT and has served on various boards of US public tech companies. Bill, welcome to our Digital Thread podcast.



Bill: Ken, it's great to be here. Thank you for having me.



Ken: Absolutely. A call-out to Jane from our team, who attended one of your entrepreneur sessions not too long ago; she highly recommended you after that session. What would you consider to be your digital thread? In other words, the one or more thematic threads that define your digital industry journey?



Bill: It's funny. I thought about it, and the whole thing boils down to the spirit of a pirate and the execution skills of a Navy SEAL. I've always thought that from my background and where I come from, I didn't always want to go along, get along, or do the same thing. I felt the urge to do something different, and that's the entrepreneurial spirit gene, some say, gene spirit. But once you do that, anybody can do that. That's not hard. But the hard part is the spirit of a pirate and the execution skills of a Navy SEAL. Once you decide to do something different, you must do it with great discipline. That has been the digital thread throughout my career.



Ken: I was impressed that your origin story is grounded in direct operational roles at IBM and then three of your startups. What did you learn at IBM that led you to start your own Startup?



Bill: Well, first of all, when I joined IBM in 1981, there was no such thing as an entrepreneurial career path. I remember my mother; God rest her soul. She thought I was unemployed when I became an entrepreneur. Back in the 1980s, it was- you worked in big companies. You worked in the government. You became a lawyer or a doctor, whatever it was. But entrepreneurship wasn't a career path, so I didn't think about it. I just graduated from college and played basketball in Europe for a year. I needed to get a job, and the best place to work turned out to be IBM, and they trained me in technology. I was an engineer and thought, "This is great. I'll learn technology and computers." I saw that as the future. But what I learned at IBM was much more than that. The technology was the table stake. I learned how to take technology and convert that into value for customers and how to build a team and work with great people. Once you get that, you don't want anything else. Back in the 1980s, IBM got the best people. It was really them and General Electric, which is ironic now, which shows you how fast things are moving. Once they hired, they'd never hire from outside. They were hired right out of college. We had this enormously talented cohort of people who came in all together, and they taught us a real-world MBA.


You know what technologies you need to understand, of course, but even more, so how do you solve customer problems and then get customers to adopt that and then sustainably pay for them? Even more so, we'll talk about this later- how to manage people in teams because everything comes down to people. Can you build a great, high-performing team? At IBM, they were transparent and directed about giving you performance feedback and appraisals. You had to give them to other people as well. Ultimately, at the end of the day, I went to IBM to learn technology, then I learned the business. But the big thing that I learned was how to work and build great, high-performing teams. That's something that people underestimate if they go directly into entrepreneurship.



Ken: What a great foundation. As you draw the analogy to GE, we've often heard the same during, especially, the Jack Welch era of the GE way. Let's talk briefly about your startup experience, co-founding Cambridge Decision Dynamics, Sensable, which was sold to 3D systems, and co-leading Viisage as CFO. If you had to summarize that time into three learnings related to entrepreneurship, what would they be?



Bill: First of all, you have to have a coherent, cohesive team to launch something. Ideas are the booby prize. Whether the technology or idea was great, that's not what makes you successful. In my first company, I learned that you have to have a great team. If you don't have a great team, nothing else matters. In the second one, we had a good team and great technology, and then I learned that you have to build the business from the customer's perspective. Once you do that, you have to build a scalable business. It's not enough to go from 0 to 15 miles per hour. You then have to take it from 15 to 40 or 60 miles per hour to scale it. The last one was at Viisage, where I learned that entrepreneurship is not as complicated as people make it out to be. By the third one, I worked smarter, not harder, and realized that entrepreneurship could be taught. There are principles and frameworks that you can use to approach any problem, and they are generalizable across different markets, technologies, and problems.


Of course, we worked hard, but that wasn't the determining factor. I realized that entrepreneurship could be taught, and there's a methodology to this. Even though in the first one, we had these very complicated system dynamics and technology. The second one was a force feedback technology, robotics technology. The last one was a biometrics technology. But the patterns were the same, and the first principles were the same. At the end of the day, from the third one, I looked at it and felt very competent. You can approach any problem, and there are principles and frameworks that you can use to solve it, but it's generalizable across these different markets and technologies, and problems. Those are the key takeaways I took away from it if you had to summarize in three bites, three-line items from those experiences.




Ken: Actually, it's interesting the way you present those. I have to imagine, as you've presented those, those align with your three startup experiences. Coherent team, customer back, and work smarter. The 'work smarter' certainly was because you had done it before; you had the patterns in mind. As you said, there is a discipline that can be applied toward entrepreneurship, and so in some sense, that's a great lead into what you're doing now. Let's fast forward now to your role at MIT. You're leading the development of entrepreneurship education across MIT at the Trust Center. Can you tell us a bit about this program and your remit in this role?



Bill: It is a direct line, ironically. Not that I plotted it beforehand. The first experience of not being very successful and the second experience of being more successful is I joke about being infinitely successful because, in math, anything over zero is infinity. But the third one is even more that entrepreneurship could be taught. That was a big breakthrough for me, and when I went back, they used to give guest talks at MIT. I was like, I told them, "Well. You didn't teach me entrepreneurship like you should have because it can be taught." Their point was- they kept asking questions, and they said, "That's great." I said, "Well, why is that great? You didn't teach it to me." They said, "Because you're going to teach it now." I said, "No, no. That's not the point." They said, "Yeah, you got to teach it. You understand it better than- you explained it better than what we've heard before." The old story, no good deed, goes unpunished. What I do now is- start with two fundamental premises. With A., anyone can be an entrepreneur, and that's a premise that I didn't believe at first. But it's true if you think about it very long. You can go around the world or look at history. People back in the Babylonian or Roman or Greek times, whatever it is, didn't lie dying on the streets, saying, "I've got to get on to LinkedIn to post my resume to get a job at a big corporation." From the beginning, people made things, traded, and provided services to others to survive. You see this today when you go around the world. I was in North Vietnam, and people don't sit around and say, "Hey, I got to get a job at Google." They create their own jobs. Human beings are innately entrepreneurial. It's only been since the Industrial Revolution that our society and education have pulled this out of them. Anyone can be an entrepreneur. The second point is entrepreneurship can be taught. Just as you said, it's obvious if you think about it. The more times you do something like this, entrepreneurship, the better you get at it. It's not math, and it's not science. It's a craft. The more reps you get in, the better you get at it. What we do at MIT now is we inspire people that yes, you can be an entrepreneur, which is- it's not something that people are told that often. But once they realize you can be an entrepreneur, we give examples, and they see them with the own eyes of their colleagues. We say, "Now, we'll teach you how to be a better entrepreneur by teaching you those first principles. By giving you those reps in a safe space and then by giving you feedback about what you can do better." That's what we do at MIT now. We integrate- inspiring them with the mindset, that's the heart, and then we give them the head, the knowledge of here's what you do. Once you know you can be an entrepreneur and want to be an entrepreneur, we give you the first principle of how to do that, the head. We go from the heart to the head, and then we go to the hands next because you can't just know what to do. You have to do it.


Entrepreneurship is not a theoretical exercise; it's a craft you must do. We integrate the theory with the practice in an apprenticeship model. The fourth thing is- it's a little more subtle than we teach, is the home. That is a different way of operating. We were taught to command, control, and conquer. That's what I was taught at IBM: you need to own all the resources, tell them what to do, and completely de-risk it.


That's not how entrepreneurs operate. Howard Stevenson of Harvard once defined entrepreneurship as "The pursuit of opportunities with resources beyond your control." This idea of having to control everything- in today's world, you have to learn how to operate in a distributed model. If I need some help on something, Ken, and you're in Switzerland, I'll call you up and ask if you can help me, and you will help me if you know that I will help you with something else. It's this. It's a much more efficient distributed model of- you're bartering your expertise, your services. It's a community-based model. We teach people- again, the heart, the spirit, the mindset to be an entrepreneur, the head, the knowledge, the first principles, the frameworks to be a successful entrepreneur, the hand. We give them the opportunity through- and outside of the classroom, co-curricular stuff to apply this and learn how to take theory into practice. Then the home, the community, as how do you operate in this way that business schools and corporations have not taught naturally since the industrial revolution? A distributed community-based way of operating those are the four pillars on which our program is built. Then we have programs in the classroom, outside the classroom, and in companies. That's the whole genesis and pillars of what we do.





Ken: I want to jump into your book in a moment but let me jump forward really quick. I'll play the devil's advocate here. Silicon Valley startup lore has built this narrative that says the most successful entrepreneurs leave school to pursue their startups. Take Bill Gates, and Michael Dell, the co-founders of Twitter and WhatsApp, to name a few. Peter Thiel, who we all love, the icon class VC, even gave entrepreneurs 100,000 to abandon college and pursue their dream. In a sense, you may be the contrarian here, offering entrepreneurship as a university course. Can entrepreneurship really be taught? Or does it need to be learned in action? I.e., as you said, the real-world MBA earlier?



Bill: Look, Ken. I'm an engineer and not a theatrical person trying to make money off this. All that narrative - there is a word, and I don't know if I can use it here - but it's bullshit. The evidence is very clear. Do you know what the average age of a successful entrepreneur is? It's not 19. It's not 18. It's 38. It's probably closer to 40 right now. There are these movies, and there's this lore of Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and all that stuff. Those people are outliers. I could go through it step-by-step, but let me give you a few numbers. Entrepreneurship is not an individual sport; it's a team sport. The data is super clear. The more founders you have, the more likely you are to be successful. Just think about it for a second. Does an individual get that much done in the world? They don't. You have to build teams, and we have data in ours right now. This narrative that an alpha dog male needs to be the leader is not the case. In our cohorts, females are now more successful than males, and that doesn't mean every female is better. Females are more successful than males, and we shouldn't buy into this whole thing with Steve Jobs. They rewrite it. Now, if I'm a venture capitalist, I want to find that individual who's very good at technology and be the businessperson around it. But you need a businessperson as well. I don't buy into it. The data is very clear, and we could go on about it. Entrepreneurship can be taught. We always take people who have not been entrepreneurs and say that some magical gene makes them an entrepreneur; it's just complete rubbish. I defy these people to show me rigorous data and evidence that these things are true. It's a narrative made in the movies and is not true in real life.




Ken: I appreciate your directness. Because coming from the left coast myself, that narrative seems to be woven into the valley's ecosystem in some sense. You're right; this is entrepreneurship for the mainstream, not for the outliers.



Bill: Ken, let me go back. You said, Peter Thiel. The narrative that Peter Thiel people- look. All of us are right in some situations, are wrong in others, and to take anyone and say everything they say is correct is not helpful. We should have debate things. I find the idea that Peter Thiel pays people $100,000 to drop out of school offensive. I find it offensive, to be quite honest. Is that what he would do? No, it's not. It's other people's lives that he's doing that. For my kids, if you look at the standard entrepreneur, they should go to college and finish college. Are you going to start a biotech company if you drop out? Because you can write some code? The answer is no, and the world is getting more complex. If we're going to solve climate change, we need people with a solid background in STEM; we need well-adjusted people who know how to manage. I'll go back to what made me successful as an entrepreneur; it wasn't some innate gene I had. It was a fact of what I learned at IBM about managing people and effectively building teams. Then, if someone's not performing well, work with them to make them a performer. If they can't get there, then help them find another opportunity. That's not stuff you'll learn if you've dropped out of school. I find that an unhelpful model. Sure, you can pay someone $100,000 to drop out of school as an investment thesis. Absolutely. If I have a lot of money, and I sit here and pay $100,000 for people to drop out of school, and I find one Mark Zuckerberg from portfolio management, that's fabulous. But you know what? What happens to all the other 99.99% of the people who didn't get that and dropped out of college? Are they going to go back to college? I'll tell you, Ken. They don't because college is not just about what you learn in the classroom. It's about the people that you walked into school during your freshman year and you graduated with, and they're your lifelong friends. I can tell you that as someone who's now over 60, my best friends are from those days, and those things have been invaluable to me over and over. Life isn't about one transaction. We shouldn't treat young people as a portfolio of opportunities to optimize. Excuse me for that, Ken; I couldn't let it go.



Ken: No, no. I appreciate you hitting that directly because some of our listeners- again, those around Silicon Valley- will naturally think of that. The fact that you're teaching entrepreneurship at an Ivy League school, a well-known technical university, is quite a testament to how far this thinking has come in that it can be taught. You're going back to your principles. Anyone can be an entrepreneur, and it can be taught.



Bill: MIT is not an Ivy League school. MIT is a land grant institution that was formed, and there's no legacy. It's not an Ivy League school. It's not about prestige. It's about getting the job done. It's about bringing facts, and it's important. That's an important distinction; we're not the 1% reinforcing it. We're a land grant university built like an Ag and Tech school, and that's what we are. It's important that MIT has brought that into society at a level. But it's important to understand MIT is not an Ivy League school. It is a land grant university set up for immigrants and immigrants' kids to man the Industrial Revolution, and that's a fundamentally different DNA from the get-go. To be clear, I'm not against Ivy League schools. My undergraduate degree is from an arts and crafts school called Harvard, and I'm all for it. I learned valuable lessons there, but everything in life is a balance.



Ken: Well, as you said, this is about entrepreneurship for the mainstream. As you've just discussed at MIT, it sounds like a school that has been in the mainstream of America. Let's drill down into your book, "Disciplined Entrepreneurship," which you wrote in August 2013, and of course, the accompanying "Disciplined Entrepreneurship Workbook" in 2017. What is "Disciplined Entrepreneurship?"



Bill: The whole book is just mind-blowing to me because "Disciplined Entrepreneurship" is basically the premise that I just said to you; it's that anyone can be an entrepreneur, and it can be taught, but it requires the spirit of a pirate and the execution skills of a Navy SEAL. But if we teach it to people, to have the execution skills of a Navy Seal, we need to teach it systematically that doesn't presume that there's just one singular answer. "Disciplined Entrepreneurship" is mind-blowing to me. It was put together as a reader for my course at MIT, where I said what helped make me successful. I pulled from all the different things that made me successful, not things that I created myself. I didn't come up with something new; I just said- but when you look at what worked, there's this company called Procter and Gamble which has been incredibly successful. It's often overlooked in the history of entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley. Everybody talks about Fairchild Semiconductor. But when you look at many people that drove that, the success of Silicon Valley, Procter, and Gamble comes up, and what was it there? They focused on determining the customer, demographic, and psychographics and building your product, pricing, messaging, and everything back from that. If you can do that for toilet paper or toothpaste, then when a technology product comes along, those same principles are very useful to you, and that's what I learned.


Then there were things like Geoffrey Moore's classic, I'm sure you remember, Ken, "Crossing the Chasm." How did that affect you? That was another tool in the toolbox. Then what about the Blue Ocean Strategy? What about some stuff like, with Lean Startup, and then Steve Blanks doing and then stuff on top he's doing? Then I just had time. I finally sat down and said, "What worked the third time that I didn't know the first one? Then what would I go back and tell other people? That's what I built into my class; it was a toolbox of all the different things. But then, once you have the toolbox, you have to have instructions as to how to use the toolbox. "Disciplined Entrepreneurship," said, what were all the tools I used, and I've looked at other people and what worked for them. This, again, is evidence-based, not a narrative. What's worked, what can we see that's worked, put the different tools in the toolbox, and then said, "Here's how you should use them. Here's the general sequence in which you should use them." That's what "Disciplined Entrepreneurship" is. Think of it as an open-source toolbox in that you pick the different tools, put them in there, and then say, "Here's how you use them in a systematic, 24-step approach." It worked for us; we tried lots of different things at MIT. Then it was the reader for our class, and while he asked if they could publish it, I never suspected in my wildest dreams that it would be in 27 different languages and be used around the world. But that's what entrepreneurship needs. It needs a common language instead of the singular, shiny new thing that comes along. That's what this was; it was an open source 'I'm not trying to invent something new.' What's worked? Let's take what's out there and put those tools on one side and then say, "Here's how you should approach it on the other side." Because it's not just- what are the tools? You first have to start with the customer and work your way back. Then, you have to figure out how you create value for them. Then, you have to figure out how you extract value. To understand how you extract value, you must understand the acquisition process. Then you build it. Entrepreneurship is fraught with the shiny new thing; what's the new thing? There's good stuff in "Lean Startup," but there was this thing about 'build the product,' and that's not right. We know that's not right. But sometimes, building a product to run experiments faster is easier when new technology comes along. We know that, so this was taking what was out there and saying, "Here's how to make sense of it." Sorry for the long answer, Ken.



Ken: No, not at all. It was good, and it hit some other points I was thinking about asking. When you think of "Lean Startup" and a number of the books around it, it assumes some digital product at the end, which certainly has different development cycles than a physical product or service might. Are there particular sectors, geographies, or founder profiles that you found have been more successful with your "Disciplined entrepreneurship" program?



Bill: I thought it would be IT products because I don't understand the biotech industry and the physical products as well. No, actually, I shouldn't say it. I understand physical IT products very well. But I didn't think the biotech. The first principles apply well across biotech, IT, software, hardware, and climate tech. Each of them needs to be customized, but there's more emphasis on the others. Like when you have a hardware product, it's even more important not to go out there and build a product. But it's the coefficients on how much you emphasize different things change, but the first principles are the same.




Ken: Now, as we're recording this, it's the Monday after the fallout of the Silicon Valley Bank crash. Thank God the Fed has decided to step in and make sure everybody's whole, but it certainly came close over the weekend for Momenta and many of our portfolio companies, as well as, I understand, your sons, who are entrepreneurs. What can we learn from this crash?




Bill: Well, in one of our classes, we say, "As an entrepreneur, what's the most important characteristic of an entrepreneur?" The most important characteristics of an entrepreneur- again, I want to make sure that I don't fall into the trap of what other people say that entrepreneurs only exist in venture-backed startups. They do not, and we as a society cannot have that. It's a very pure form of entrepreneurs and startups. But we need entrepreneurship and large entrepreneurs and large corporations and academics in government; otherwise, we as a society will not be able to be successful. We have this class, and after we've gone through it, and we say-, we call it the 'oh, shit class.' What is going to go wrong? What's going to go wrong in your Startup? We go through this list, and people say, "Oh, we'll run out of money with this and that." Then I go to it, and I say no. The number one thing that will go wrong in your Startup is everything. Entrepreneurs have to be able to take a blow and keep going. Not only take a blow, but it energizes them, as one of my students said a few weeks ago. It may have been a chain. It said, "What I learned from coming to class at MIT is you don't weather the storm. When there's a storm, you get out and dance in the raindrops." Change is what entrepreneurs are about; adversity should energize us. I do not wish this on it, and the Silicon Valley thing was- but the system worked.


Silicon Valley was not a place of fraud. It was trying to do something different and could not be held back by anything could be held back. But they had high quality- I have no financial interest in any of this, but the quality of their assets is such that the people who are associated with that, the people who put their money in there, will get their money back probably 100%. There was a lot of  ... through this, and that's unfortunate. It's disruptive to it. But you know what? That makes us stronger in some sense. Then we always talk about entrepreneurship as being anti-fragile. You have to be able to take a blow and come back, and the system I'm feeling quite good about right now, and then the government recognized that it's not that hard to fix this problem. There was no fraud there and the like. At the end of the day, it was a distraction. It was very scary for a while there, but we're back, and let's get going and think about how we avoid this in the future and build more anti-fragility into systems going forward, and we will be better for this.

As we've talked about before we started this podcast, finance matters in startups. It's not just about technology; it's about customer acquisition. But you also need to have finance. You need to have a well-balanced team. It's not just about writing some code and it goes viral. It's about having a well-balanced team to give you strength and bring products to market. Go to market strategy, but also strengthen finance. I think, by the way, Ken, that this has taken away from the bigger trend right now, which is this generative AI which is very profound. We're going to get back to that, that's one of the fundamental disruptions of our time, and I think that's where we'll be back to in a few days.



Ken: Well, it sounds like a great subject for another podcast there. We have 48 portfolio companies, and I wish we had several founders between Thursday and late last night sending emails out regularly. This resilience you made earlier is well-endowed in all of those. I wish I could publish those, but it was a fun weekend reading the emails back and forth between these founders.



Bill: That's what entrepreneurs need to do. They need to keep their cool; they need to say what matters here, and let's keep pushing forward. We will get hit. I want to say another thing to your digital people out there because this generative AI is huge. I remember- and I made my name at IBM in the 1980s because I was a personal computer person. I remember going in, and there was resistance in corporations to these personal computers. We've got our spreadsheets, calculators, and accounting system- so we're automating the accounting systems they bought into. But then, when the personal computer came, we had a spreadsheet. It was called VisiCalc at the time. I remember being there and seeing the resistance of people to VisiCalc. I was like, wow. How can you resist VisiCalc? What happened was I was the new guy on the block, and I could see how powerful this was going to be, and yet, there was resistance to do that, and people would fight it. Now, it's crazy to think people would fight a spreadsheet. But they did. They did, Ken. I don't know if you remember this, but they would say, "Well, we got our calculators, and we've been doing it this way, and we write the numbers down. How do we know if it's correct if I look at a spreadsheet?" We have the same thing going on now with generative AI, and I'll give you a simple example. This ChatGPT- one of our very successful entrepreneurs- and I mean very successful, "In our classroom, we're going to ban ChatGPT." I had to sit down and say, "This is crazy. Let's talk about this for a second." You're going to ban ChatGPT, yet- they could lose their job. Well, you're not going to stop ChatGPT. They're not going to lose their job to ChatGPT; they're going to lose their job to people who don't know how to use ChatGPT. I'm not saying ChatGPT is the answer; I'm using it as a metaphor. But that digital transformation that needs to happen, we all as leaders- entrepreneurs and organizations or wherever, need to lead that by saying, "How do we take this technology of ChatGPT and transform our organizations going forward rather than resist it?" We need to get out in front of that and understand there are going to be bumps in the road, just like there with Silicon Valley coming up. We need to bounce through those and figure out, yes, the longer-term potential here is worth those bumps in the road, and we're going to get there.

If I lead with nothing else here, we must embrace this going forward. We need to be anti-fragile. I've said my theme in the past is 'spirit of a pirate, execution skills of a Navy SEAL.' The message I give going forward, and I think about all the time, is this anti-fragility that the world will never be slower than it is today. It's only going to get faster and faster. Think of ChatGPT; it got to 1 million users in five days, Ken. Five days. Five days, 1 million users. I mean, that is mind-blowing. I remember when we saw PCs, how fast people thought PCs were adopted. We didn't get to a million PCs for two years, which was mind-blowing. Then it gets Spotify and these other things, and that's the trend. The world will go faster and faster, and for the leaders of the industry, entrepreneurs inside large organizations, entrepreneurs in startups, in government, and in academia. We need to embrace this change and not resist it. We need to see it as an opportunity and get stronger in the face of change. Anti-fragility is a concept that fragile systems break in the face of change. Resilience is a neutral condition where they keep going but don't embrace the change. Anti-fragility says, "Hey, change is happening. This is our opportunity." Again, we'll get out there and dance in the storm, not sit inside and try to survive it. That's the kind of leadership we all need as Chief Digital Officers, Transformation Officers, and Innovation Officers going forward. If I lead with nothing- point more than that, the world's going to go faster and faster. We need to embrace change as an opportunity, not resist it. I love that story about the ChatGPT as an example of that.



Ken: What a great conversation. If you had seen me behind the mic, I would have been saying yes with the high fives there.



Bill: That's it. I know, Ken. That's why I want to be here; this is what we need out there. We need to keep having that pipeline into corporations that transform it. Small startups are great, but they're not scalable unless they get inside these bigger corporations to take it to a whole other level, and that's what you're doing.



Ken: The catalytic effect. Look, Bill. On that note, thank you for sharing this time and these insights with us today.



Bill: Thank you, Ken, for having me. Good luck to all of you out there, and go forth and be more anti-fragile.



Ken: I love it. This has been Professor Bill Aulet, Managing Director at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and Ethernet Investor's Professor of the Practice at MIT Sloan School of Management. Thank you for listening, and please join us for the next episode of our Digital Thread podcast series. Thank you, and have a great day. You've been listening to the Momenta Digital Thread podcast series. We hope you've enjoyed the discussion, and as always, we welcome your comments and suggestions. Please check our website at momenta.one for archived versions of podcasts, as well as resources to help with your digital industry journey. Thank you for listening.


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What inspires me?

Bill Aulet is driven by his conviction that entrepreneurship can have a positive impact on the world, which is reinforced by his background as an entrepreneur and educator. He is deeply committed to supporting aspiring entrepreneurs in developing the necessary skills and mindset to succeed. Bill firmly believes that entrepreneurship can address a range of challenges, including unemployment and social issues, and can drive economic growth. For him, entrepreneurship is a force for good in society, and he is eager to empower individuals to create positive change through entrepreneurship.


About The Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship

The Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship is an academic center located at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that focuses on promoting and supporting entrepreneurship education and innovation. The center was established in 2000 and was named in honor of Martin Trust, a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist who has supported the center's activities since its inception. The center offers a wide range of programs and resources for students, faculty, and alumni, including classes, workshops, mentorship opportunities, and access to funding. It also hosts various events and competitions throughout the year, such as the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition, which provides cash prizes to promising startups. The center's mission is to inspire and cultivate a community of entrepreneurs who are dedicated to solving the world's most pressing problems through innovation and entrepreneurship.