Everyone is born with the most important skill to become a successful entrepreneur – the ability to ask why, said the founding chief technology officer of Priceline.com.
“Unfortunately for most people, that peaks at age three and the system beats it out of us,” added Timothy “Scott” Case ’92 (ENG), during his address last night at the Student Union Theater to kick off UConn’s inaugural “Month of Discovery.”
The month-long program to foster entrepreneurship, innovation, and creativity among students is a venture of the Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the Office of Undergraduate Research, and First Year Program Learning Communities.
Priceline.com, a commercial website for finding discount rates for travel-related purchases such as airline tickets and hotel stays, was not the first venture for Case, a native of Greenwich, Connecticut, nor the last.
Case, who majored in computer science and engineering, currently serves as the CEO of a company he co-founded, Upside Business Travel. As an undergraduate, he worked closely in a company founded by former professor Mallory Selfridge and Selfridge’s wife in the general aviation field.
“It was a great learning experience by starting the company and writing a bunch of software,” said Case. “But, we didn’t understand marketing and really didn’t know how to do it well. So, I spent as much time in my tenure learning how to sell as I did writing software.”
Case said that each summer during his undergraduate years he considered not coming back to school and, instead, starting his own company.
“Both my dad and Mal would say ‘Dude, just go get your engineering degree’ and they were totally right. Those four years of school matured me in ways that I could not have gotten another way, and so I wouldn’t trade any of that.”
But there was an importance to his curiosity, said Case. When he was younger, he would ask questions of the parents of his friends and, now that he is older, Case said he asks the friends of his children all about the latest trends in technology, and what they like and do not like.
“When you are looking to start a company, you have to be curious about the problem the company will solve and if there is really a need for it,” Case said. “Then, you really have to dig in on who you customers will be. Who are the people you are solving this problem for? Then, you have to focus on relationships and keep asking questions.”
Case’s involvement in Priceline.com began with his curiosity about marketing.
“By talking to so many people, it led me to an introduction to a guy named Jay (Walker), who was starting Walker Digital and he had this idea that the dawn of the internet was going to present some opportunities,” said Case. “I joined him not for that, but because he had co-founded a marketing company that had been pretty successful and I thought that I would learn how marketing, sales, and storytelling work.
“Whether we cook anything up on the internet would be secondary.”
Priceline.com turned out to be a “great experience in a short amount of time” as the company reached a billion dollars of sales in its first 24 months of operation in the mid-1990s.
Case told the students that some people are made to go out and take the risk of starting a company on their own and some are not, but that all of them should consider joining a co-founder at a new company. “Corporations that are less than five years old are the job creators of America,” he said.
Case met his wife Leslie Hartmann Case ’92 (CLAS) during their freshman orientation and then started dating while the two live in McMahon Hall as freshmen. She was an honors English major and the couple now has four children.
Case has also served as the vice chairman and chief executive officer of Malaria No More, an organization that inspires individuals and institutions to end the deadly disease, and serves as the chairman of the Network for Good, a national organization that has distributed more than $4 billion to 200,000 small charities.