Executive President of America Online Interactive Properties Ted Leonsis (COL ’77), spoke to an audience last Friday about success in the business world. Leonsis, majority owner of the NHL’s Washington Capitals and potential owner of MCI Center in Washington, D.C. and the Washington/Baltimore Ticketmaster franchise, also discussed his personal success story as an entrepreneur.

Leonsis’ speech was part of the 4th Annual Capital Technology Summit, a two-day conference on the university’s campus. According to its Web site, the purpose of the event is to “unite MBA students, tech-focused graduate students, academics and industry leaders to explore burgeoning issues for D.C. Beltway technology-makers.”

Leonsis began by highlighting his early encounters with the world of business as a Georgetown student.

“Early on I learned that popularity and taking it to the streets was good,” Leonsis said. This same strategy of getting in touch with the needs of consumers, he said, is what enabled the rapid success of AOL.

“We decided to blanket the world with disks,” Leonsis said, referring to the free trial disks that AOL distributes. “We now have 27 million customers at $22 a month.”

Leonsis continued to emphasize the importance of establishing connections and learning effective strategies to increase customer support.

“One of the biggest mistakes people make is to think that the way you build a brand is just through advertising,” he said.

According to Leonsis’ experience, excessive advertising does more harm than good. Instead, he said he encouraged potential businessmen to understand the importance of “hand-to-hand combat” or contact with the consumer.

“When you dive into the customer pool and you get to know what they want and you make them fall in love with what you’re doing, they’ll develop a community of interest,” he said. According to Leonsis, success in the business sphere begins with the development of a community.

After a community of interest has been built, Leonsis explained, one must incorporate the powers of the media to rapidly increase product popularity. Once these elements have been established, one’s product or service has the potential to become a necessity.

“If you build a community and create a media business, you have the rare opportunity to become a necessity,” he said. Following a recent shutdown during which AOL was temporarily unavailable, it was made obvious that the company had crossed over into the world of necessity, Leonsis said.

“Yesterday AOL sent more than 1 billion instant messages,” he said. “The postal service processes 600 million pieces of mail a day. In two months we will be [doing] two times of what the postal service does [just] with instant messaging.”

Leonsis concluded his presentation by saying opportunities are still available for potential entrepreneurs who think that they have missed the gold rush in the business world.

“[This] was just the first wave,” he assured the audience. According to Leonsis, AOL’s market capitalization of $150 billion and its 27 million plus membership does not discourage him from pushing forward. “The Internet [is going to] transform all businesses and industries,” he said.

“[This event is important] because of Georgetown’s proximity to the local technological corridor,” Tech Summit co-chair Sandra Szahun said. “Georgetown should be the number-one school recruited by these companies, and events like these help build the relationship between the university and businesses,” she added.

Co-chair Rick Airhart agreed.

“It’s a great networking event to learn about the latest and hottest technology issues,” he said.

According to Szahun and Airhart, this year’s conference was especially exciting because it was the first year it was open to the general public and other schools. The Harvard Business School, Columbia University Business School, Johns Hopkins University, Vanderbilt University and the University of Pennsylvania were among the list of universities that attended.

The event also included a speech on Saturday by Tom Gardner, co-founder of the Motley Fool, a network that offers financial assistance over the World Wide Web. Several panels that took place on Friday and Saturday afternoons were part of the program as well. Among the topics discussed were privacy concerns of cyber culture, the job market for MBAs in a changing economy, female technology entrepreneurs and Internet policy and governance.

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