Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Start Up 101 Series - Zonbu

*I was going to post about revenue models today but I met with one of the co-founders of Zonbu today and could not resist posting this instead.*

Business is often an elusive practice. For some odd reason, some businesses succeed and others fail simply by trial and error. So is the term entrepreneurship, and so I should point out here that for all the academic theory and research surrounding this idea, it is those who have been able to embody the spirit of entrepreneurship who have been truly successful.

As for Grégoire Gentil, when I met him in his office on El Camino Real, it became evident that whatever the traits are for an entrepreneur, he is inexplicably an individual that embodies those traits not only in spirit but in action.

Gentil launched three businesses since 1996. In 2006, Gentil and his colleague Alain Rossman created Zonbu.

So what is Zonbu? The technology has the look and feel of the traditional desktop (for $99) or laptop (for $279) but isn't quite the desktop or laptop that we know. Aimed at casual laptop users, Zonbu provides an open source software where the computer is more of a portal to the data stored on a server somewhere rather than a computer.

In addition to that, most of the company's revenue comes from a subscription based service rather than the device itself--a type of HP printer model where the printer itself is a cheap base price, but you pay more for the print cartridges later.

Gentil, as a technology geek and avid trendwatcher, has been able to create what he calls a "disruptive technology"--the very thing that will keep away corporate giants like Dell and Microsoft from his market niche.

As a disruptive technology, it tends to just elusive enough for the corporate giants not to move into this space, and Gentil attributes this to defining a very clear and specific niche where larger players may not be able to support.

So how has Gentil been so successful at creating 4 start-ups to date? Gentil had no direct answer, except to say, "You have to be stubborn enough to believe in yourself and what you are doing, because others may not believe in what you are doing."

He has also been very good at simply identifying solid trends and opportunities. Zonbu is the intersection between cloud computing, sound hardware design and open source. It's an ambitious idea for sure, as he has also been able to integrate poignant environmental issues into the benefits of the technology.

For those of us who want to start a business, Gentil advises, "You have to start early." The older you are the less opportunity there is to succeed. My perception of this is that perhaps the more responsibilities and pressures there are to succeed. This is centrally against the principle that entrepreneurs must be able to pursue risk without boundaries because entrepreneurs risk failure just as much as success.

However it seems that Gentil's skill at identifying opportunities, "stubborn" nature and technology knowledge have contributed most to Gentil's success thus far.

In addition to that, it also helps if you "hire people who are smarter than you."

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