Many great entrepreneurs started their ventures early in life. Michael Dell was only 18 when he incorporated Dell
It may surprise you to know that Casnocha did not grow up in a family of business owners. But it probably helped that Ben lived in the San Francisco area, which has a culture that encourages tech start-ups.
The key theme in the book -- and a characteristic of all successful entrepreneurs, really -- is that Casnocha liked to fix things. In his case, he saw that cities had difficulties dealing with questions and complaints from their citizens. Perhaps some type of online software that let citizens better communicate with their leaders would help out, he thought.
Despite his age, Casnocha acted like a tech veteran and researched his market. That research included extensive interviews with city managers, who provided valuable feedback. Yet he realized that he needed to bring his own innovative instincts to the venture as well, since, as Henry Ford once said, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."
So, with a business plan and product specifications in hand, Casnocha got bids from programmers. He went with the low bid of $2,200, and it didn't take long until he was flying from city to city trying to sell his newfangled software for his new company, Comcate. For each presentation, he spent hours customizing things to the needs of that city. He admits that he was "obsessed with effective presentation techniques."
At first, Casnocha experienced a lot of resistance. But every sales call was still an opportunity for him to ask for feedback, a contract, and referrals. Eventually, his persistence started to pay off, and he got his first contract, for $429. (He framed the contract.)
But remember that Casnocha was still a teenager. His schoolwork started to suffer, and he knew he needed a seasoned operator to take Comcate to the next level. That meant bringing a CEO on board. Entrepreneurs never have an easy time taking this kind of step -- they tend to avoid dilution of equity and control. But just imagine how difficult it would be if you're a teenager and you need to keep up your grades ... and serve as the captain of the varsity basketball team. Even Casnocha's trusty BlackBerry wasn't enough to let him keep up with Comcate's intense demands.
It's a great story, but the book itself is far from perfect. In some cases, Casnocha's advice is hazy, and he'll make obvious statements such as "Do research" or "Know yourself." He also tends to generalize on issues without providing much support. In one part of the book, he writes: "Most mergers and acquisitions fail." Really? Then why do great companies such as Google
Still, for the most part, Ben Casnocha's story is an inspiration and a learning experience. He makes it clear that if you, too, want to be a tech titan, you shouldn't have any excuses for not giving it a try.
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Fool contributor Tom Taulli, author of The Complete M&A Handbook, does not own shares mentioned in this article. He is ranked 2,509 out of more than 60,000 participants in Motley Fool CAPS. The Fool has a disclosure policy.