Award-winning Entrepreneur Adam Lilling Reflects on His Remarkable Journey

Shannon Beeman
September 27, 2013

Adam Lilling, BBA ’92, has made a name for himself as a serial entrepreneur, venture-capital investor and co-founder of the top business start-up accelerator in Southern California. During opening keynote remarks at 2013 Entrepalooza: Accelerate You on Sept. 20, he reflected on his remarkable journey and shared insights into how he connected the scattered dots of his life into a single entrepreneurial line.

“The road you’re on is already a road to being an entrepreneur ─  you don’t have to be born that way,” said Lilling, who received this year’s Alumni Entrepreneur of the Year Award from the Zell Lurie Institute in recognition of his outstanding entrepreneurial achievements. The award was presented by Stewart Thornhill, the Institute’s new executive director.

Media hype about instant fame, fancy cars and big bank accounts often fails to reflect the hard work and long hours that form the building blocks of a successful entrepreneurial career, Lilling told his audience in the Ross School’s Blau Auditorium. “I’ve been working my tail off for 20 years to be an ‘overnight success,’” he said. “It takes a long time.” Over those two decades, Lilling created pioneering media and e-commerce companies, co-founded the LaunchPad LA accelerator and started Plus Capital, an early-stage venture-capital fund with cutting-edge portfolio companies. “I was on a journey and didn’t have a plan,” he explained, recalling how he once made $45 million in paper profit only to lose every penny in the dot-com crash. “I was lucky to meet someone [my wife] who let me be an entrepreneur and didn’t care about the money but did care about the journey.”

Aspiring entrepreneurs can adopt attitudes and actions that will help accelerate their pathway to success, Lilling said. During his remarks, he shared a few of his favorite truisms:

  • Don’t model your future after outliers ─ “Don’t think you’re the next Mark Zuckerberg [Facebook’s founder].”
  • Break eggs, lots of them ─ “I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I’ve gotten more credit for my failures than my successes.”
  • Throw Hail Marys every day ─ “If you get one out of 100, that’s great.”
  • Have the sizzle and the steak ─ “Keep telling people about what you’re doing and then go back and work hard.”
  • Be a study of history ─ “Don’t learn everyone else’s mistakes.”
  • Remember billion-dollar ideas are a dime a dozen ─ “Ideas are worth nothing. Execution is everything. If you think your products/services are different from those of your competitors, you’re drinking your own Kool-Aid.”
  • Find balance ─ “Compute the time value of your life not the value of money.”

The good news, Lilling concluded, is that entrepreneurship is “a sport everyone can play. You need the strength and desire to control your own future.”

For more information on programs, biographies and more, check out the Entrepalooza page.