Internet pioneer and venture capitalist Ted Leonsis (COL ’77) spoke about entrepreneurship and the importance of empathy to his business success Friday evening.
His talk in Reiss Friday was part of Students of Georgetown, Inc.’s 40th Anniversary Celebration.
Leonsis owns the Washington Wizards, Mystics and Capitals and is the founder of SnagFilms, a website that streams independent documentaries. He also started media company RedgateCommunications, and became a senior executive at America Online when Redgate was acquired by the corporation in 1994.
Lenonsis’ first business venture was a snow cone stand that he launched as an undergraduate in 1976. After graduating, he briefly worked for a consumer technology company before founding a software firm that sold for $70 million when he was 24 years old.
Leonsis said that his rapid success led him to briefly lose his way and begin questioning his values. He had an epiphany, however, after surviving a plane crash in 1983.
As the airplane was falling, Leonsis prayed and negotiated a deal with himself.
“If I get through this, I promise I’ll live the rest of my life without regret. I’ll try to find my own way, and I’ll leave more than I take,” he remembered thinking.
Surviving the crash inspired Leonsis to make a list of 101 things that he hoped to accomplish during his lifetime. So far, he has fulfilled 76 of them.
Leonsis encouraged prospective entrepreneurs to actively participate in several communities and underscored the importance of social interaction and self-expression.
He also cited personal empathy as a key to his success. Leonsis said he came off self-absorbed in an interview with the Washington Post after purchasing several of the District’s professional sports teams. He responded by apologizing to the staff of Verizon Center and cleaning the women’s restrooms and pickup up garbage after entertaining President Barack Obama at a Washington Mystics game.
“It’s almost two years later. … Not a single person has said to me, ‘Remember when you hung out with the president of the United States?’ But every single person remembers that I apologized, I said I was wrong and I cleaned the women’s bathroom,” Leonsis said.