Entrepreneurial management: A conversation with CEO-turned-BC lecturer Doug Shaw
Doug Shaw ’77 teaches Entrepreneurial Management at the Edmund H. Shea Jr. Center for Entrepreneurship. Prior to joining Boston College, he was president and CEO of Monotype Imaging Inc., a global typography company based in Woburn, Massachusetts. We caught up with the Carroll School alum to talk about how he took Monotype from tiny startup to industry leader, what he’s added to his core course curriculum (hint: podcasts), and why he thinks it’s easier than ever to get into the entrepreneurial game.
So let’s first step back to life right after BC. You majored in accounting. Where did you go from there? Tell us about your business background.
Shaw: My two focuses were finance and business planning. My first job was with Bank of Boston, selling bank services. My second job was as a business planner with Compugraphic. We had a type library and an enlightened president who said, “You know what, why don’t we set up a whole different business and have that library turn into a digital format and license it to OEMs?” And that became Monotype. It was an entrepreneurial business but within a big corporation. We started it with 13 people.
Typography has been around since Gutenberg and yet the industry continues to evolve. How much of your experience at Monotype do you bring to bear on the Entrepreneurial Management course?
Shaw: I mainly look at the research-based business practices. Mary Tripsas, as my mentor, has helped me tremendously with that. I try to only infuse my experience where I think it reinforces what the class is about. Monotype was a startup at one time, so I can talk about the evolution of businesses: What was it like starting a business? What was it like refining our business model?
Are your students interested in pursuing their own ideas or bringing fresh thinking to existing markets? What are some of the “high-growth” or “high-velocity” ventures you talk about in the classroom?
Shaw: I taught undergrads last spring and I’m teaching MBAs this fall. In both cases, it’s been incredibly energizing. Students are so excited about the topic, so engaged, really opinionated, and, frankly, they’re really smart. I’d say their motivations come mainly from wanting to do their own thing. Some see a problem in the world and they want to solve it. Others say, “I want to be an entrepreneur but within a larger organization.” So great, how can you bring that entrepreneurial spirit to a Google or a whatever? Google’s a great example, because they innovate all the time.
What industries do the students seem to look at?
Shaw: There’s a heavy interest in any kind of social media app. It’s the world they live in, with Instagram and Uber. So they see a need to solve problems and they gravitate to that, because they’re getting life through social media. Other markets they look into are things like financial services, healthcare, or even ethnic restaurants. An international student wanted to open a Spanish restaurant. Another one, a Mexican restaurant. So it really runs the gamut, but I would say social media apps are a major focus of their daily lives and that’s where a lot of people are looking first to innovate.
So how do you structure the class?
Shaw: We break the class into groups of four or five students, and they each have a semester-long group venture.
Do you have your students listen to podcasts like “How I Built This”?
Shaw: I am a huge fan of “How I Built This.” My very first class [meetings,] I recommend they listen to it. The moderator always ends the podcast with “What part did luck play?” and I love that question. In the Reddit interview, they said it was really three things: 1) a certain amount of intellect—you have to be smart enough to identify the opportunity. And then 2) you have to go after it. And then 3) you totally have to have luck. You’ve got to be there when there’s that opportunity, when the market’s ready for it. I’m a big believer in all three.
What excites students about entrepreneurial ventures? What scares them?
Shaw: I think what excites them is that it’s attractive to think about being your own boss. It’s attractive to kind of leave your stamp. You know, like along with the other founders we identified a market need and capitalized on it. So I think it’s that kind of “Why not?” attitude. I think what makes them nervous is how do you get started? When do I jump into it? How do I test this idea in the market? Do I need a bunch of money to start it or can I bootstrap it? Basically, just a fear of the unknown.
How has the response been from students and do you feel inspired about the future of innovation in the business world as a result?
Shaw: The response has been fantastic. Their enthusiasm and, frankly, somewhat naive attitude toward business—you know, the “Why not? Why can’t I create the next Apple or whatever?”—is great. From my own standpoint, I’m doing a lot more reading. I’m up to date on all the cases we’re presenting. So I’m learning as well. Intellectually, it’s been very rewarding.
Have you seen an uptick in interest in entrepreneurial ventures?
Shaw: Absolutely, and I think it’s because it’s easier to get into the game. When I graduated from college, the way we’d do things is we’d write big specifications…and you’d have alpha and beta and all these different releases. It was a long, costly process. Today, everybody uses the Agile method to innovate, which is basically learn and adjust. You can test ideas through bootstrapping very easily. If you have $20,000, that’s enough to really test an idea. And with viral communication on the web, if you’ve got a great message and you’ve got the right people reading it, then they pass it on. And boy, overnight you can have lots and lots of people buying your product.