Drew Perkins has started and built companies worth billions of dollars. His new vision could be even bigger.
During our interview on the DealMakers Podcast, Drew Perkins shared the story of his startups, the virtuous upcycle he has mastered, the painful lessons of a first startup you might want to skip, and building a company with a 550 million dollar outcome in just one year. Plus, the definition of luck for entrepreneurs and what’s next for augmented reality.
Lessons From Your First Startup
Drew Perkins was born in New York City and grew up in Pennsylvania. As far back as he can remember he has been into technology. Before high school, he experimented with electronics kits from Radio Shack.
He was able to get his hands on computers as early as the late 70s. Then went on to study math and electrical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. By 1981 he was into the Internet before most had even heard of it.
His mom’s family were all entrepreneurs, and that certainly seems to have shown up in his DNA as well.
He launched his first business in 1987. A small business focused on ethernet switches. His company Entelechy was just two people. They knew a lot about technology, but not much about the business side yet. They ended up shutting it down.
The big lessons he took away from this experience included:
- The need for fortitude as an entrepreneur
- The importance of having the right cofounders from the beginning
Riding Rocket Ships
Next Perkins joined a group of his classmates and friends who had started FORE Systems. With Drew leading software engineering the company quickly grew into a multi billion dollar company.
A year after he joined, the company went public, giving him the experience of seeing the full cycle of a startup business and what is possible.
The Definition Of Luck For Startup Founders
Many entrepreneurs that we’ve featured on the DealMakers Podcast have put their great success down to ‘luck’. So, how do you get luckier and improve your odds as a startup founder?
One of the lessons Drew took away from FORE Systems was how challenging it can be to hire a big team of great people. Especially outside of Silicon Valley. So, having always wanted to move to California, he decided to move out there for his next venture.
Within just a few days of landing, he met a cofounder who would go on to help him build at least three great companies over the next ten years.
They founded Lightera Networks in 1998 and sold it for $550M to Ciena Corporation the next year.
Drew told our audience that it was “luck.” His definition of luck? When opportunity meets preparation. In this case, he had been preparing for years. Then he launched the right company at the right time, and in the right place.
He also says that if you build a great team, beginning with the cofounders, you can take on and overcome the tough challenges that are sure to come and build even the biggest companies.
The Virtuous Cycle
Downward spirals can be fast and vicious. Yet, Drew Perkins also seems to have found the recipe for creating and replicating virtuous upcycles.
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