Jimmy Wales co-founded free online encyclopaedia, Wikipedia in 2001. By 2006, Time magazine had named him in its list of the world’s most influential people and today, Wikipedia is the largest information resource on the web (ranking 6th globally). CambridgeElevator.com – the free social network for startups – met Wales at Tech Entrepreneurs Week where he shared his top three tips for succeeding in business.
- Be persistent;
- Don’t waste time doing something useless – give up sooner;
- Do something that you are passionate about rather than something you think will succeed.
The American Internet entrepreneur left his second PhD to become a futures trader but was such a super-geek that he went home and worked on his own web browser. “But it sucked compared to Netscape,” he confided.
In the early days of Wikipedia, Wales admits “I didn’t think about the business model – I just thought if it works I’ll work that out. There was no money to hire anyone so we had to be innovative. That’s the problem with big companies – they have money and don’t need to innovate.”
He added: “If you invest everything and don’t prepare yourself for failure it hits your soul too hard and if it doesn’t work out you have to take years to re-evaluate and try again.”Culturally, Silicon Valley does this well – they think to do something entrepreneurial is good. You are doing something culturally valuable. Don’t focus too much on the Mark Zuckerbergs. If you are doing something worthwhile and it makes money then great.”
Wales gave up on Newpedia, he said, but didn’t give up on the vision. “Am I an idiot for giving up or more of an idiot to persist? I launched a series of completely failed web sites. A lot of entrepreneurs hire too late and fire too late. In the beginning I fired too late!”
Wikipedia was ultra-frugal in the beginning, spending just $5.36 on advertising. “We went 36c over the Google Adwords minimum,” he recalls. Wales said he wouldn’t change the model for Wikipedia of being a free encyclopedia that anyone can edit. He explained: “We could get more traction offering mail or Twitter comments but we don’t care about that. We are an encyclopaedia.”