His Startup Life

Setting an entrepreneurial goal of avoiding

Most 12-year-olds don’t have goals that extend much beyond lunch. But Ben Casnocha was already setting goals for an entrepreneurial career in his preteens and now, at 18, is awaiting publication of his first book, My Start-Up Life: What a (Very) Young CEO Learned on His Journey Through Silicon Valley (Jossey-Bass, May 2007, $24.95).

Casnocha credits Apple Computer’s “Think Different” campaign for giving him the impetus to become a boy entrepreneur. In 2001, he started San Francisco-based Comcate, Inc., now a leading provider of Web-based software for small and mid-sized local governments around the country.

“We work with about 60 agencies and manage their customer service and request-tracking processes,” Casnocha says. “My role as founder is to be an active board member and consult with the management team on strategy.”

No longer involved in day-to-day operations, Casnocha hasn’t lost his passion for business – he’s broadening his view.

Goal 1: Curtail ‘Laughable Optimism’

“I have no idea what I’ll be doing in 10 years and thus have no roadmap for getting there,” Casnocha says. “I like wandering. The right things seem to find me.”

That may sound like slacker-talk, but it masks an ability to set and reach short-term goals. If Casnocha decides to close three deals in a month, he does. If he wants to finish a business-related task in two days, he does.

“Most entrepreneurs are ‘laughably optimistic’ and have a vision that’s extremely difficult by most standards,” he says. “But for the entrepreneur, it’s just another day, just another goal, and you get to work.”

Goal 2: Control Your Destiny

When Casnocha was starting up Comcate, he spent time analyzing the competition, how they were positioned and the market segments they were after. As founder, he managed marketing and sales, software development and tech support, and served as company spokesperson, all while growing the business to its first million in sales.

Now, he says, “I don’t spend as much time, mainly because I think we control our own destiny. The competition is going to do what it’s going to do. We just need to execute our own plan and we’ll be fine.”

That includes creating software solutions to specific governmental problems, providing services that maximize return on investment and delivering products that are custom-fitted to the needs of the client.

Goal 3: Keep Your Life Part of Your Plan

Aside from his exceptionally young start, Casnocha’s experience provides a model for entrepreneurship – including a life plan. While launching his company, he continued to play basketball as captain of his high school team. And now in a gap-year before he starts college, he’s taking time to travel abroad and collect life experiences.

But he’ll see them through a special lens. Casnocha says entrepreneurship is a way of looking at the world.

“Entrepreneurs can exist in any profession,” he notes in his Web site bio. “The only (criterion) is that we are determined to carve our own life path.”

Alice Rhein is a frequent contributor to StartupNation.

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