News, On Campus

Alumnus Talks Entrepreneurship, Venture Capitalism

Most accounting majors lose their motivation to continue with their degree while in school, Peter Bell, BC ’86, said to a small group of students on Tuesday. Bell lost interest two months into his job with audit firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC). He switched his career from auditing to a career in entrepreneurship and quickly found his feet as an entrepreneur, eventually becoming a senior adviser at Highland Capital Partners.

In the most recent “Lunch with an Entrepreneur” event, sponsored by the Shea Center for Entrepreneurship, Bell discussed his experiences with entrepreneurship and how they tie back to his time at BC, and outlined his career in venture capitalism.

After Bell’s graduation, he worked for data storage company EMC in sales, marketing, and operations. He then received a master’s degree from Harvard in general management. Bell went on to teach at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at BC in the Carroll School of Management. He also founded StorageNetworks, a server and network storage company. His current position at Highland Capital Partners places him in Palo Alto, Calif.

Bell’s career path have largely rested on the connections he made during his undergraduate years.

“Everything I’ve done professionally has tied back to people from BC,” he said.

Bell’s networking skills has been crucial to his success within all of the industries he worked in, including education, entrepreneurship, and venture capitalism.

Bell stressed the role that dedication plays in success in every job.

“You have to have a passion about [the market you enter],” he said. “Good candidates, for any line of work, are able to build a network and are intellectually curious.”

After leaving PwC, Bell helped create EMC, which was later acquired by Dell. His experiences working for EMC gave him considerable experience as an entrepreneur, something that continues to help in his work today.

Bell also reflected upon his experiences as an entrepreneur. The challenging lifestyle is better suited to some than others, according to Bell. He noted that the ideal candidates are around 28 years old, working in teams of two, who are already involved with their second business.

Entrepreneurship is a craft suited to the young, which Bell attributes to young people’s lack of obligation.

“Young people have no baggage [and] no preconceived set of responsibilities,” Bell said. “I’m 52 years old. I’m encumbered. I have responsibility. I have kids. I could not start a company without too much risk, but when you’re young, you can and should go all in.”

Bell also said that while some experience is necessary to get one’s feet off the ground, experience is overrated, and the only way to be successful is to have a passion for the subject.

The volatility of starting a business is undoubted, according to Bell. Although with drive and purpose, he believes it is possible to have more success than failure, and notes that it’s easy to learn from the pitfalls.

The attention required to pick a team when starting a business is not to be undervalued, according to Bell. A good team makes or breaks a business, and without a strong backbone, it is likely to fail, Bell said.

“If you’re going to start a company with someone, you have to be thoughtful about picking your team,” he said. “Having a partner keeps you motivated, but people change and teams break up—it’s human nature.”

Bell also believes that teamwork is integral to the growth of companies, and he pushes the idea of togetherness. He thinks that entrepreneurs should pick diverse teams with different skill sets.

Bell then highlighted the ambiguity of his job as a venture capitalist. The mercurial nature of venture capitalism can be characterized by Bell’s experience with Uber, as he severely underestimated its success. He expanded by explaining that the strikeout rate for venture capitalists is around 50 percent, and that it is a hit-or-miss industry.

According to Bell, the success of investments largely rests on two essential questions: “is the market ready?” and “is this the right team?”

Bell’s parting advice to BC students was succinct.

“Have fun,” he said. “Do not rush life through.”

Bell said that often it is not the major that matters, but rather the passion one has for a career that will make him or her successful.

“Find something you believe in [and] something you care about,” he said.

Featured Image by Alex Trautwig / Heights Senior Staff

November 2, 2016

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