Dan Moshavi, the Dean of the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business at San Jose State University, chats with Ray Zinn, the longest serving CEO in Silicon Valley, about entrepreneurship education, what classes are important for entrepreneurs, why passion is critical for them, what are the key lessons of entrepreneurship they should embrace, and the mission of Ray’s ZinnStarter program.
Ray Zinn: Welcome again to one of our great podcasts, Tough Things First. Visiting with me today is Dan Moshavi, who’s a dean of the Lucas College of Business at San Jose State University. So Dan, thank you for, again, joining us. I’m sure we’re gonna talk about education one more time.
Dan Moshavi: Absolutely, Ray. It’s my pleasure to be here, and thank you for inviting me into this mix and for sharing your wisdom with not only our students, but around general business education issues. As you know, San Jose State’s one of the largest business schools in California. We’ve got 5,000 students on campus. We have a robust and growing entrepreneurship program. And, as the only public university in Silicon Valley, we really are a key player in powering this valley. We have tens of thousands of alumni working here. They build successful careers here, including … We have 800 alumni members of our chief financial officer network who are current or former CFOs in Silicon Valley. And, many of our alumni have also been successful entrepreneurs. And, I know that entrepreneurship is near and dear to your heart, Ray, and your ZinnStarter Program is certainly a testament to that. So, I’d like to get your thoughts on entrepreneurship education today, if I can.
Ray Zinn: No problem. In fact, my last CEO … CFO, I’m sorry. My last CFO at Micrel, Bob [DeBarr 00:01:59], he’s since passed away, God rest his soul, was a San Jose State graduate, got his master’s at San Jose State. So, that was my last CFO before we sold the company.
Dan Moshavi: That’s great. Thanks for sharing that. Let’s dive into entrepreneurship education a little bit. So in your view, what are the most important courses a student interested in entrepreneurship should take?
Ray Zinn: Oh, this is one of the most favorite questions I get asked. And, it’s so important because they’re classes with principles. The first one is economics. Economics is a very broad field, but understanding and learning economics, and how the various components of economics apply to business, are very important. Second, is accounting. As a CEO or an entrepreneur, you can’t run your business unless you understand accounting. And, accounting is just a very complicated, but, yet, very worthwhile field for them to learn and understand. Transactions, learning general ledger, understanding how the cash flow statement’s put together, balance sheet, income statement … They’re so important. You can’t even be a board of directors in California anymore, maybe across the country, unless you understand accounting.
Dan Moshavi: Right.
Ray Zinn: Okay. The third one is business law, tort law. It’s so important for a person who’s running a company to understand how the legal system works. We have a great legal system in this country, but understanding how it functions is very, very important. And the last, is financial and managerial accounting. Understanding how financials work. In other words, it’s like a Bible. It really gives you the history of the company. It tells you where you’re falling short, where you need to beef up your operations. You talk about accounts receivable financing, or accounts receivable, aging inventory, aging inventory control. All these things are very important for the CEO to understand.
A lot of CEOs out there are technical, but they don’t know anything about the inwards of the financial aspects of the company. So, I don’t care if you’re a housewife, even. Understanding those four courses … Take them, even if you have to as an extension. Online, however. Those four courses are key courses if you’re going to be an entrepreneur.
Dan Moshavi: Great. And, you hear a lot about the importance of passion in career choice. How critical is passion to an entrepreneur, do you think?
Ray Zinn: Well, if you don’t have the passion, you’re gonna lack the drive. To get up every day and face 80% of what you do you don’t wanna do, it takes passion to do that. Because, I will tell you that eight out of 10 things you’re gonna do during the day, you’re not gonna like doing. It’s just part of the nature of running a company, running a business. You’re gonna have to deal with employees that are not happy. You’re gonna have to deal with unhappy customers, unhappy vendors. And so, those are not pleasant experiences. And so, there are many things that are drudgerous that are gonna be involved in your day to day activities. So, you really have to have a passion for what you do. You gotta be passionate when you wake up. You gotta be passionate when you go to bed. Not exhausted, passionate.
Dan Moshavi: How do we nurture that passion in college students as educators, as mentors? How does that happen?
Ray Zinn: Well, they can learn that as … In fact, that’s an important thing, Dan. Because, if they’re not passionate about getting an education, they’re not gonna do well in school.
Dan Moshavi: Right.
Ray Zinn: So, they’re gonna learn passion in their school. And, you guys can sense that. As you teach them, you can sense which students had that passion because they’re doing extra work. In other words, they’re actually going out of their way, they’re going the extra mile as they say, and becoming a better student. So, I think better students make better employees. The ones that I want to hire and work for me are those who, they’re not just looking at getting by. They’re not looking at just getting a degree. They’re there to learn. They wanna understand those principles. So, passion is extremely, extremely important among college students.
Dan Moshavi: I know you do a lot of mentoring of up and coming entrepreneurs. Share some key lessons you try to impart.
Ray Zinn: It goes back to learning to do the tough things first, eating that ugly frog first thing in the morning. What I try to tell them to do is that success is not spelled S-U-C-C-E-S-S, it is spelled W-O-R-K. And, I spell where it doesn’t sound “work” it’s “work.” In other words, you gotta keep at it. There’s the little train that could, you know?
Dan Moshavi: Understood.
Ray Zinn: “I think I can. I think it.” Then, “I know I can. I know I can.” You gotta keep pushing every single day. And, pray for challenges. Pray for opportunities to overcome these challenges. Bad habits are easy to start and hard to break. Good habits are very hard to start and easy to break. So, you wanna start learning good habits, and not bad habits.
Dan Moshavi: What’s the biggest mistake you see young entrepreneurs make?
Ray Zinn: They think cash grows on trees. That’s what I think. Cash is key. And, if you run out of cash, you run out of business. So, the most important thing for them to do is manage their cash as though it was their lifeblood. You wouldn’t slit open your arm and let the blood just run out on the ground, would you? So, same thing. Don’t bleed yourself to death of your cash. Pretend it’s your blood, your lifeblood of your body. And don’t run out of cash, just like you wouldn’t run out of blood. I tell you, if you saw your arm bleeding badly, what’s the first thing you’re gonna do? You’re gonna put your hand over, or put some tourniquet, or you’re gonna stop the bleeding, right?
Dan Moshavi: Absolutely.
Ray Zinn: And, there’s far too many companies out there, big companies that are well known, that don’t make money. And so, they have to keep going … It’s like they need a transfusion. It’s kind of like people who are bleeding to death, and they’re living off of transfusions. After a while, when those transfusions stop, they die, okay? So, what you wanna learn to do is learn to live without a transfusion.
Dan Moshavi: Very interesting. You’ve launched a ZinnStarter Program at several universities, including at San Jose State, seeding very, very early stage student ideas. What do you hope to accomplish? And, are there specific lessons that business schools, and universities in general, should take away?
Ray Zinn: Well, if we think about the number of companies that fail because they just don’t understand how to run the company … Nine out of 10 startups fail within the first three years. My goal at ZinnStarter is, in the universities with whom I’m helping, I’d like to have those students that leave with that training in ZinnStarter to have a success ratio of better than 50/50, anyway, as opposed to only 10%. So, maybe I’m not gonna get everybody to be successful in the first three years, but that’s a major goal. So, I want them to learn the ins and outs, and the pros and cons, of running a company before they leave school, not waiting until after they leave school. And of course, offering it in the graduate programs, like the masters program, I think are very good too. So, not just for the undergraduate, but also for the graduate students.
Dan Moshavi: Ray, really appreciate your thoughts today. Your observations about entrepreneurship education are very enlightening and should give educators and students some guidance in their own journeys. I wanna remind everyone that a lot of Ray’s observations can be found in two of his books, “Tough Things First” and the “Zen of Zinn,” where he focuses on management leadership and how to get people to contribute effectively to their organizations. And, you can get your copy at amazon.com. And reminder, subscribe to the Tough Things First podcast using your favorite mobile app: iTunes, Google Play Music, whatever works for you. And, you can find those links at toughthingsfirst.com.
Ray, thanks so much for including me today in this podcast.
Ray Zinn: Thanks, Dan. I really appreciate this opportunity to meet with one of the great deans of the business schools throughout the country. If you wanna get a good education, San Jose State’s a good place to start.
Dan Moshavi: Appreciate it, sir. Thanks so much.