Hoffman Inspires

Priceline Founder Hosts Entrepreneurial Discussions at MCDS


Speaking to students.

From checking in at airport kiosks, avoiding the hellish crowds at busy airports to grabbing bargain vacation deals from the comfort of our own laptops, serial entrepreneur Jeff Hoffman’s collection of achievements has affected us all. Students at MCDS were fortunate enough to hear from the man himself at a special assembly on Wednesday, January 24th.

Brought to the campus by ‘06 alum Camron Murphy, Hoffman regaled and captivated different audiences all day: young student entrepreneurs in the morning, faculty and Board members for lunch, a full house of adults in the evening. Whether he was talking about encounters with his friends Tony Hawk or Sam Walton, Derek Jeter or Justin Timberlake, his stories wove a brilliant and inspiring tale and he kept a common thread going: each successful person had had a passion and each a failure…or more.“You don’t start a company just to start a company – you do it because you’re trying to do something that matters to you,” he told his audience.

Inspired by the ever quotable Mark Twain that “‘travel is the fatal enemy of prejudice,’’ Hoffman left small town Arizona to see the world, with the goal of seeing 50 countries before he died. Endless hours spent in airport check-in lines inspired Hoffman to create his first game-changing innovation, the Electronic Ticketing Machine. “Great entrepreneurs ask the question: does this bother anybody but me? And if does, they look to see if there’s a solution.” Clearly Hoffman was onto something, and now the ETM has become integral to air travel as the inflight movie, or trashy airport novel. Thus, Hoffman achieved his dream with his start up, as he set about selling his ETMs to airports across the globe. “That company  let me travel all over the world because I had to deliver those things. Later I created another company called Priceline which does business in over 200 countries today. It sounds silly still but it’s like a 90 billion dollar company and it was a start up.”

For a part of each day, Hoffman told a small group of 9 -18 year old innovators from our I.C.E. program, he “info-sponges.” Info-sponging, as he calls it, is intentionally scouring and taking daily note of new and innovative ideas he gets looking online, in newspapers, on TV. In other words, doing your due diligence all the time.  Hoffman made it clear that before starting a business you need to understand why you were starting up that venture, be prepared with research and build a team. Spartan Cup Business Challenge winner and Techno Chef co-founder Noah Florin had done a massive amount of research , which ultimately helped him win the school competition, according to the judges. He was grateful for the opportunity to talk to Hoffman and felt his message about “the importance of rebounding after failure” was also something that really resonated with him.

“Nothing worth achieving ever happens without failing a bunch of times on the way,”  Hoffman feels. He used the example of his friend skateboarder Tony Hawk who he asked “so the first time you ever tried that trick on a skateboard, you nailed it right? He [Tony] replied ‘No I went to the hospital like 11 times and I broke 6 bones and my mom told me to stop skating but eventually I made it.’ ”

Doubters are something else all entrepreneurs face at some point. He elaborated about a certain boy-band music producers thought would never make it.  Instinctively he knew the consumer buying the product wasn’t the record producer and his colleagues, but young girls and their Moms. So when everyone in the music business was saying “No” he went on to manage the group. Their name? INSYNC.

One of fourth grade entrepreneurs,  Lucas Bacardi Shriftman, a young filmmaker who works with Best Buddies in his “free” time, felt reassured when Hoffman told him that doubt is normal but  “never let it stop you.”  He told his young audience not to  “worry about the haters.” He continued to explain the importance of excellence over failure. Typically adults complain about having to go to work, Hoffman illustrates that a career shouldn’t be something you dread but something you look forward to…”The best jobs are those that don’t feel like one.”

When asked by one student “What do I need to do to make 30 billion dollars?” Hoffman laughed but said with all sincerity “Money is not the end game.”  He went on to say, “I’ve done 8 companies in my life, 6 of them worked, 2 of them failed…Money doesn’t matter. Excellence matters, do something amazing with your life and you’ll never worry about money.” Your goal should be to solve a problem, make the world better.  As an entrepreneur, Hoffman has the freedom to design his own life, and has left the MCDS community inspired to innovate.

“Anything hard that you’re going  to try to do means you’re going to  have to keep trying and failing and getting better and learning and falling down.  That’s life and that’s business.”