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Taser founder describes the challenges, joys of startup life

Phil Smith, chairman emeritus and strategic advisor to Taser International and current chairman of Mind Over Matter AI, addresses Eli Broad College of Business MBA students about his experiences in Fortune 500 companies and many startup companies.Phil Smith (MBA ’65) returned to the Broad College on April 18 to give a talk to Broad MBA students titled “Employment Opportunities in Small vs. Big Organizations.”

Smith is chairman emeritus and strategic advisor to Taser International. He has more than 35 years of experience, both as CEO or chairman of technology companies and as corporate officer of three Fortune 500 companies, and is currently involved in five ventures, including serving as chairman of Mind Over Matter AI.

With experience on both sides of the fence, Smith was able to run down the differences between small and large companies. Large companies require patience and political skill for success; small companies offer low pay but the potential to make much more if the company does well. He offered the example of Taser, which made 41 millionaires, including an executive secretary.

While he discovered that working in large organizations did not play to his strengths, he encouraged students to know themselves and thereby know where they fit. “If you’re good and you’re having a good time, the money will follow,” he said.

As students asked about the challenges of starting a new business and determining whether it would succeed, Smith shared his wisdom from countless ventures: “You never know what’ll happen until you try it.” His greatest piece of advice was to “be willing to fail” and to try to figure out quickly whether an idea would work. “There are so many more ways to find out now—crowdfunding, crowdsourcing.”

As a startup company succeeds and scales up, Smith explained that the greatest challenge is hiring the right people and sharing responsibility appropriately. “There’s nothing more expensive than poor management,” he noted. “Nothing.”

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