05/27/2015 09:45 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

An Afternoon With Kevin Ryan


"Go do a start-up...  it is really fun," said Kevin Ryan. "Only join a company if you would invest in it," he recommended.

If you live in the world of fashion, you will know Gilt Groupe. If you live in the world of advertising, you will know Double Click. If you are in the world of business, you will know Business Insider.

Those are merely three of the many successful companies that Kevin founded and built over the years. When he visited the Harvard Business School this semester to give a lecture on entrepreneurship, his advice was spot on.

I wanted to share five short key insights from his lecture:

1. It's about execution

An idea is great, but what matters is how well the idea is executed. The Internet will disrupt every industry. So find something and make it better, he suggested. Google or Facebook did not reinvent the wheel. You don't have to. "A 4 month head start is not really an advantage," he said. Execution is key.

2. It's about people

Money follows the people, and of the two people are more important. That means communication is key. And the job of the CEO is then to find and recruit the best people.

3. It's about simplicity

Kevin's suggestion: have an idea that is simple and better yet one that nobody is pursuing. Focus on an area that is neglected. "You want to find a $10 billion sector that people are not good at," he said. Don't add features. Pick a neutral name for your venture. Keep it simple, stupid.

4. It's about opportunities

People worry about running out of ideas. But things are changing constantly. Take advantage of those shifts. Be willing to try new things. Aim high, and have a big goal. This, in turn, will motivate others to join your venture. And by pursuing big opportunities and goals you will have an easier time raising capital.

5. It's about passion

"Why do people fall behind?" Kevin asked. Because they were not really into it. They were not really doing it for fun. The most important thing is to do things that you love. You can fake it for a while. But you will not make it if you don't love what you are doing. The rat race amongst competitive people will not matter twenty years from now. So don't do something just because you get an extra benefit. Do it because you love doing it.

This was originally published at The Harbus, the student newspaper of the Harvard Business School.