Tech Ranch Founder Kevin Koym’s Mercurial Entrepreneurial Journey

By SUSAN LAHEY
Reporter with Silicon Hills News

Photo courtesy of Daniel Heron

Photo courtesy of Daniel Heron

Tech Ranch was born on the side of a mountain, when Kevin Koym was snowboarding. He’d started about seven companies, including the very first internet banking application. He’d worked for Steve Jobs at NeXT, participated in several skunkworks projects—loose teams working without much organizational structure on innovative solutions. He’d made and lost money and he’d spent a lot of time on the bleeding edge of technology, working on what would be the next big thing…in five years.
He’d also been through a major depression and, at that moment, in 2003, had just lost a close friend. And there on the snow he thought: “I don’t want to build another fucking widget.” He wanted to make a difference in the world. And he wanted to do it by helping entrepreneurs.
What he really wanted was a hero’s journey. So he came back to Austin and sought out Betty Sue Flowers, then director of the LBJ Library, who had edited Joseph Campbell’s book The Power of Myth. Flowers listened to Koym’s story and said something unexpected. “If you are serious about this, you should go to Chile and meet Senator Fernando Flores.”
What she didn’t know was that friends—worried about his emotional state—had asked him that morning to join them on a trip to Chile.
“I almost freaked out and ran and hid,” Koym said. “But another part of me was watching over me.” And that part got him to go. So he went: “Hell bent for leather and ragefully angry” about the loss of his friend; about life without meaning.
That was the beginning of Prueba el Mundo, an entrepreneurship development program Koym co-founded with participants from Chile, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia. (He also leads entrepreneur teams in Santiago, Chile and Guadalajara, Mexico.) It was also the year he helped launch Bootstrap Austin. And it was the seed that would, in 2008, become Tech Ranch. It was the start of the journey.

Internal Alignment

Speaking at Startup Grind, hosted at Tech Ranch Monday night, Koym told a story of periods of meteoric success, huge mistakes, emotional storm and eventually arriving at a place of doing what he’s meant to do. Though he’s still doing it in an “unruly,” special forces, take no prisoners way.
A graduate of UT with an electrical engineering degree, Koym had several great internships at major corporations like IBM and Motorola, but when he discovered startups, he said, he “got religion.” He worked for Pencom Software after being laid off by NeXT, then founded Praxsys, a skunkworks, early stage technology implementation and innovation consulting firm. It was during those years, when he was a golden boy of the software industry, that he hit a huge depression.
“I had my first venture–an ecommerce venture–my face was on the cover of Computer World magazine, most of the cash I have in my bank account came from that time, I was one of the fair haired boys of the Austin Chamber…and I was suicidally depressed,” he said. For Koym, that was a seed to one of the aspects of Tech Ranch that is unique: helping entrepreneurs become “internally aligned” as well as offering insights about getting customers or pivoting a business plan.
“You can do the lean startup, but if you don’t have the insides of you ready to attack and hold the customer…you need to find what’s missing in yourself, to develop that part of you for your venture. If you don’t figure out the inside you end up cheating or think you’re winning when you get funding.”
A lot of entrepreneurs are misaligned in terms of seeking money or meaning, Koym said. They have one, but not the other. They may have issues with performance or with dysfunction. As the child of a psychologist who’s dug around plenty in his own psyche, that’s one area where Koym likes to help. It’s impossible to succeed, he said, unless you have internal alignment.
But Tech Ranch requires more than internal alignment. It requires a small investment: The Ranch’s weekend program, Venture Start, is $150. Venture Forth, the eight week mainstay of Tech Ranch, is $650, but Koym said the price is going up soon. Then there’s Venture Builder for established companies.
It also requires intense passion.

Take No Prisoners

When talking about Venture Forth, for example, Tech Ranch’s main program for entrepreneurs, Koym makes it clear that it’s only for people who are committed to their enterprise, because it’s done in groups of 15 where there’s “nowhere to hide.” It’s not for “entrepreneurial tourists,” or “pretentrepreneurs.” If someone is building a business with his last dollars, he doesn’t need to try to work through his issues with a team mate who is dabbling. Koym prefers bootstrappers because they tend to “bleed” for their companies and—he’s seen a lot of this in countries like Chile and Mexico–they find solutions that people with venture backing don’t have to look for. And he promises that any teacher who is used by Tech Ranch will have “entrepreneurial scar tissue, none of this bullshit arrogance.”
“What I really want you to hear,” Koym said, “is there’s something really special about the path of the entrepreneur. There’s something really special you stand for. You have to be the pioneer. You’re the one going out on the skinny branches.”

Comments

  1. As an immigrant and businesswoman abroad in Germany, I can totally relate to the spells that are both “freak out” over wins and “rage” over losses. Being an entrepreneur can be completely disorienting but — I believe — also part and parcel of what it takes to drop from the normal employee path.

    Thanks for sharing this inspiring story for those of us looking to write our own!

  2. Generally bookkeeping accounting is the recording of financial
    transactions. Here’s the basic structure to follow: introduce yourself, then summarize the prospective client’s needs, describe your services and costs, and
    finally, provide information about your organization, your credentials, and your capabilities.
    Bad accounting alone is the very reason why many would be successful entrepreneurs
    fail.

  3. Love the marriage of the Hero’s Journey to business, life, and entrepreneurship!

    You’ll enjoy the articles, lectures, audio, and video here:

    http://herosodysseyentrepreneurship.org/heros_odyssey_entrepreneurship.html

    HERO’S ODYSSEY ENTREPRENEURSHIP OUTLINE
    1. The Ordinary World: You awake each day to the routine, rise, and leave your dreams behind.

    Blog your dream. Set it down in a notebook. Take ownership in your ideas with blogger.com or wordpress.org.

    2. The Call to Adventure: A more vivid dream–a flash of inspiration. You can’t shake the feeling–the wave is real, though they can’t see it.

    Register those copyrights. File that provisional patent. Register that trademark. Voyage on out to your bookstore and cruise the section on entrepreneurship. Check out the USPTO. Read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution–they were written for you.

    3. Refusal of the Call: Voices tell you that you aren’t good enough. Friends, parents, teachers, bosses, and your own internal voice.

    Seek mentorship from those who have done, for they will say, “yes you can.”

    4. Meeting the Mentor: With newfound energy you seek mentorship–you turn to the Great Books & Classics–The Odyssey & The Inferno–Shakespeare & The Bible, Franklin, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Martin Luther King Jr.

    Mentorship surrounds us. Wisdom comes from all walks of life. So listen, watch, and read. And then read some more–for those books which have lasted have lasted via the profound mentorship they provide.

    The USPTO has resources dedicated to artists, musicians, authors, and creators.

    Nolo.com has wonderful books for artists, authors, and creators. Two of my favorites are Patent it Yourself and Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights.

    5. Calling the Bluff: Nobody knows the hand you hold. And you can’t see theirs. But it seems–yes–they’re bluffing. So you call ‘em and raise ‘em, and you let them see the .45 revolver by your side–the Truth of the Great Books and Classics. You’re going to surf that dream on home.

    Dr. E added the “calling the bluff” stage to Vogler’s outline. You gotta call the postmodern bluff. Postmodern Wall Street transfers the risk to you and the wealth to themselves. Postmodern academia sells expensive degrees that often don’t teach much of value, instead teaching the exact opposite, opposing classical entreprneurship. Postmodern politics and literature have replaced plot and character with hype, and Hollywood has replaced Epic Story with reality TV and remakes of seventies sitcms.

    Call the bluff, live the renaissance, and vast wealth will be yours.

    6. Crossing the Threshold: And so you set out, crossing that point of no return. You have no choice but to succeed. Once you’re on that wave, you’ve got but one choice–ride it.

    Suddenly the words of the Greats take on a new, more immediate meaning. Watch Braveheart, The Matrix, The Outlaw Jose Wales, and A Fistful of Dollars. Take those ideals off the silver screen, take them out of the books, for ideals are most useful tools in reaching your most valuable assets–your passions and dreams.

    Incorporate at bizfilings.com. As of today, you are your own business, and you can take Mark Cuban’s investment advice–“invest in You, Inc.”

    7. The Road of Trials: It ain’t easy out here. Some statistics say that 90% of small businesses fold in five years. An infitesimal percentage of novels are published and screenplays optioned. But you do it anyway, as did everyone who ever suceeded. So you patent it, trademark it, copyright it, and live it.

    “Every fighter has a plan,” Mike Tyson once said, “until they get hit.” But that’s the joy of battle–for out here alone do we ever find our true constitution–our ability to innovate and think on our feet, and still prevail. So follow your dream, and tell the world, “My name is __________.”

    8. Tests, Allies, Enemies: Even when your business is launched, when your screenplay is being produced, there will yet be those forces that oppose and sabotage. But too, loyal friends will emerge, and a Fellowship will form.

    And you shall find those best of friends that one only finds away out here, along this odyssey–they too left the ordinary world long ago and set off to follow their ideals, and Destiny brought you together.

    9. Supernatural Aid: Away out here, something magical happens. A stroke of luck that only means something because of the risk you took. You took a chance, called the bluff, and caught the wave just right. So it is that “God helps those that help themselves.”

    Open source software, in all its robust freedom, can provide that seemingly supernatural aid. Software is labor immortalized, and open source has bestowed us with not only LAMP (Linux, Apache, MYSQL, PHP/PYTHON/PERL/RUBY) servers, but it offers free and robust solutions for ecommerce, content management, blogging, alubum hosting, and more.

    Fantastico allows for the quick and easy installing of leading open source spplication such as wordpress (blogging), joomla/drupal/postunke (content management), and cubecart/oscommerce/zencart (ecommerce). Hostgator accounts come with Fantastico and the intuitive cpanel interface. Also check out hotscripts.com for more free software.

    Don’t be afraid to get under the hood and “teach yourself” linux/php/mysql/apache in ten minutes, twenty-four hours, or fourteen days–you know those books. Hard work and studious industry is the best supernatural aid there is!

    And now it’s your turn to give someone a break–to provide trusting mentorship. Should you ever find yourself waiting around to be helped, reach out and help someone–give ‘em a break.

    10. Stringing the Bow/Seizing the Sword: Degrees, money, and titles mean little out here–victory goes to those with integrity–those with honor, courage, and commitment. For ideals alone can string eternity’s bow.

    Ideals are your most valuable asset–they are those entities which inspired those dreams that awoke you long ago–the dream that haunted your days, always beckoning you to embark on this odyssey.

    11. The Showdown/Ordeal: It’s been a long time coming. You just wanted to live in peace and harmony, but that boss/bureaucrat/outlaw antagonist just wouldn’t let you. But you call them out, and now you get to stand toe-to-toe; face-to-face with a new book, or invention, or film, or venture that serves the world in a better way.

    So often it is that entrepreneurship is opposed. “No good deed goes unpunished.” Socrates and Jesus were sentenced to death for seeing a better way and speaking the simple truth to power. Steve Jobs was kicked out of Apple. Read Richard Branson’s biography, and you will see the hundreds of showdowns he partook in.

    12. Rescue From Without/The Resurrection: So often it is that just as one wins, the jealous bureaucracy moves in to seize control. In every Western, after our hero wins the showdown fair and square, yet another Outlaw draws a bead on him–to shoot him in the back.

    Jobs was kicked out of Apple, but then brought back to take it to new heights. Richard Branson lost Virgin Records, but was reborn in Virgin Airlines and a thousand other ventures. John C. Bogle founded Vanguard upon the ideals set forth in his Princeton Senior Thesis, and now he pens inspirational books and speeches based on those very same ideals. Every entrepreneur ought read Battle for The Soul of Capitalism, as it reminds us that entrepreneurship’s greater purpose is to serve.

    Those who live by ideals have no need to fear death, as Socrates realized, for the soul is immortal. Though some bureaucracy rejects the implementation of your ideals, they can’t steal nor kill those ideals–for America recognizes the entrepreneur’s rights.

    13. The Road Back/Return with the Elixir/Freedom: You took ownership in your dreams and destiny–you called the bluff and caught the wave, and the Truth set you free.

    You added to the wealth of the world–the long-term wealth of the world–via the simple act of following your passions and dreams.

    And everything you learned on this Hero’s Odyssey will come in handy along tomorrow’s odyssey–we’re setting out at dawn.

    Dr. E’s Hero’s Odyssey EntrepreneurshipTM Blog

Trackbacks

  1. […] Tech Ranch Founder Kevin Koym’s Mercurial Entrepreneurial Journey – Tech Ranch was born on the side of a mountain, when Kevin Koym was snowboarding. He’d started about seven companies, including the very first internet banking application. He’d worked for Steve Jobs at NeXT, participated in several skunkworks … […]

  2. […] Tech Ranch Founder Kevin Koym’s Mercurial Entrepreneurial Journey – “What I really want you to hear,” Koym said, “is there’s something really special about the path of the entrepreneur. There’s something really special you stand for. You have to be the pioneer. You’re the one going out on the skinny branches.” […]

Speak Your Mind

*