Entrepreneur and PU grad points to the basics as key to high-tech success

University hosts lecture series

By: Hilary Parker
   "Building a Pre-IPO Company in the Face of Recession, War and Google" — the talk Steve Papa offered on Thursday at the Princeton University Friend Center — could have well been titled "How to Turn a Princeton Beer Can Into the Fastest-Growing Information Access Software Company."
   Mr. Papa, a 1994 graduate of Princeton University and founder and chief executive officer of Endeca, delivered his talk as part of a technology entrepreneurship lecture series that is co-sponsored by the Center for Innovation in Engineering Education at Princeton and the Jumpstart New Jersey Angel Network.
   "This lecture series is important to our overall educational mission of preparing leaders who integrate a broad understanding of technology and how it can improve our lives," said Vincent Poor, director of CIEE. "Of course, we are delighted to co-sponsor this lecture series with JumpStart NJ as we are eager to strengthen our ties to the regional business community and to foster entrepreneurial ventures."
   Prior to Mr. Papa’s talk, students and entrepreneurs networked in the Friend Center, swapping business cards and business tips. Attorneys and biotech marketing managers mingled with university faculty and students.
   Ken Kay, chair of Jumpstart NJ, said he hopes collaborations between Jumpstart NJ and the university will ultimately provide the opportunity for entrepreneurs to leverage the creativity and innovation coming out of the university, which he said has historically been closed off from the business world.
   Just as Endeca’s mission "is to help people find, analyze and understand information in ways never before possible," Mr. Papa made his company’s technology accessible but, more important, he shared Endeca’s history and his own insights into successful entrepreneurship.
   Weaving his tale from a combination of humorous anecdotes and photographs, historical timelines and business pointers, Mr. Papa’s ability to make information understandable was evident. As he shared the fact that the need for new search technology first started when Endeca’s co-founder was searching for a Princeton reunions beer can on eBay, he showed photographs of the firm’s first few offices in sublet apartments and basements with bright orange acid waste pipes overhead. His humorous touch offered insight into his success without the historical revisionism he said is often found in lectures by successful entrepreneurs.
   For all his high-tech accolades, though, Mr. Papa offered lessons that rang of plain old-fashioned business sense.
   "People, placed in the right role, make all of the difference," he said, emphasizing the importance of building relationships. In addition to having the right people, he emphasized the importance of trying to do things the right way, such as his company’s decision to make its first customer — Fidelity Investments — a success before seeking a second customer. The plan obviously worked — Endeca is now close to crossing the 300-customer mark.
   Since 1999, Endeca has weathered many a storm that sent other technology companies under — the collapse of the Internet bubble, massive layoffs in the tech industry and the international uncertainty stemming from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2004, the three largest retailers in America at the time — Home Depot, Wal-Mart and Kmart — all went live with Endeca technology, and in 2005, Esther Dyson PC Forum named the company "Best of Show."
   So while he emphasizes the importance of sound business practices that stand the test of time, Mr. Papa is also the epitome of an innovative entrepreneur.
   "Do not abdicate to experience," he told the audience. If he had, Endeca would not have become the success it is today — the fastest-growing information access software company.
   "I had three years’ experience and a lot of audacity in June of 1999," he said. "Ignorance, as well — it’s easier to be audacious when you’re ignorant of all the challenges."