Chris Kuenne: Secrets of His Success

kuenne talks

A year after he sold his company, Rosetta, for more than $500 million dollars, 13 years after he founded the firm, Chris Kuenne began grooming his successor, and at the 15 year mark he is now, basically, “emeritus.”

He’ll begin teaching High Tech Entrepreneurship in the fall, and he spoke to an SRO group, without notes, as part of the reunion activities for the Princeton Entrepreneurs Group. Among the Princeton Comment readers and chamber members who attended this get together in the Mathey College Common Room were  Ed Tseng, Len Newton, and Amanda Nicol.  (Nicol will be among the mentors for the university’s  summer entrepreneurship program.)

kuenne talks 1

Much of Kuenne’s story has been documented  in U.S. 1 Newspaper and elsewhere – how he started out in big pharma and was pursued by his Big Idea until a family tragedy impelled him to go off on his own to create his own firm.

Among the biographical facts that I hadn’t heard: His senior thesis (Class of ’85) was about slavery in the United States.

The personality characteristics of an entrepreneur, Kuenne says, include being really curious about a problem, being obsessed with the problem, and being ready to spend a lot of time, money, and effort on it.

He spelled out these  “Five Cornerstones to Success.”

1. Focus on a really big economic problem, measurable, so people really care about it.

2. Think in ecosystems and platform structures, because platforms can scale.

3. People — talent management — is important. Build a culture and a brand that stand for something and reinforce it among the employees, the marketplace, everywhere.

4.  Find a clear metric for value creation that you can rally the company around.

5.  Once the first four cornerstones are in place, “outside capital can be a powerful accelerant to build out the remainder of the platform — which is what the Lindsay Goldberg capital and debt syndicate enabled us to do.” Lindsay Goldberg funded the acquisition of four additional companies to complete Rosetta’s vision.

However,  he  told of wice turning down top bidders who planned to take over the company, and choosing lower bids that would preserve the Rosetta brand. Lindsay Goldberg was his choice the first time,  Publicis was the second.

Business marketing entrepreneurship, said Kuenne, is more than a career, it is an entire lifestyle — to live a life of purpose and value creation, to create jobs and create capital, and create learning opportunities. In California, Rosetta employs 600 people in four offices. Just 15 years ago it had three people.

And, says the always engaging Kuenne, you’ve got to have fun along the way.

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