What does it take to succeed as an entrepreneur? A degree from a prestigious school? A great business plan? A really nice suit? Larry Warnock ’83 says it’s simpler and more fundamental then that: creativity and passion.

“The people who become successful have creativity and passion, and when those things blend, exciting things happen.” Successful entrepreneurs, according to Warnock, “have the passion to stick with their idea even though everyone tells them it’s the stupidest thing they ever heard of.” They also have the creativity to develop a new product or service, or see a market in a new light. Starbucks didn’t invent coffee, but they did invent a new way of serving it. Entrepreneurs must see opportunities in the marketplace where others don’t.

“The people who become successful have creativity and passion,” Larry Warnock ’83 told a classroom full of undergraduate business students. “When those things blend, exciting things happen.” (view more photos)

Warnock’s an expert: he has more than 25 years of experience working with start-ups, most recently as the president and CEO of Phurnace Software. B.M.C. Software acquired Phurnace earlier this year, freeing Warnock up to return to his passion—being involved with very young companies. He is now an advisor with DFJ Mercury, a privately held venture capital firm.

Many students haven’t considered entrepreneurship, says Warnock, and they should. “It’s an exciting business career option,” he says, and one that is essential to the economy.

“Entrepreneurs are the true creators of wealth in the economy. They are the creators of ideas, of business, of jobs, and of wealth.” Every major company started out as “two or three people in a garage…drawing pictures on the back of a napkin. Every business started as an entrepreneurial venture.”

Entrepreneurship is for the resilient because for every product that sells, there are probably 50 that flopped. “It’s a high stakes poker game….you’ve got to try again and again and again…and occasionally you get a Facebook. Occasionally you get an Apple.”

Warnock’s advice for applies to students, entrepreneurs, and those in traditional business environments.

  1. Interact with your customers regularly. Whether your product is floor cleaner or tooth brushes, get out there and see the product in use. Talk to the people that use it. You will glean new ideas and insights that will propel the business forward.
  2. Be decisive. This is something Warnock says he learned through his time in the Corps of Cadets at A&M. “You need to learn how to make tough decisions and make them quickly…then act.” He says too often he sees “death by duck bite,” where a manager or company fails to act decisively and is then nibbled to death by small, wrong decisions. If a tough decision is in front of you, bite the bullet. Don’t make a half-decision.
  3. Be nimble. Once you’ve made a decision, you may need to change your mind later on. “Even if you’re on the right track, you’re going to get run over if you just sit there.”
  4. Maintain a healthy paranoia. Somewhere there is an entrepreneur gunning for your business that will up-end you if you’re not prepared for the competition.
  5. Sometimes all you can do is say “IIWII,” or “it is what it is.” There are certain situations you can’t change. When something is out of your control or not going your way, apply your passion and creativity on the things that you can affect. Then move on.
  6. Have a vision and execute with a passion. What is passion? “A feeling at your core that this is important to you.” That’s what you should build your business or your career on.

Advice and lessons learned in the classroom will only get you so far, says Warnock. There is no one recipe for a successful venture or career, and frequently what you major in will have little bearing on your career (Warnock has a degree in marketing from A&M). Many times you will learn the skills you need for your job on the job, or while you’re creating your job. Successful people bring their creativity to an opportunity and have the passion to drive it through. That’s the secret to success.

“Creativity and passion…These really differentiate successful business people and successful entrepreneurs.”

In addition to his entrepreneurial ventures, Warnock frequently guest lectures in the MBA program at the University of Texas at Austin and the Acton MBA program of Hardin-Simmons University. He serves on the executive committee of the board of directors for the Austin Technology Council, a non-profit that focuses on the advancement of the technology community in central Texas. He is also an advisor to several early-stage technology companies on their go to market strategies and fundraising activities.