EFFINGHAM — David Samuel went from operating the first Internet radio service to selling high-tech toilet seats.
The two different businesses were just part of the journey Samuel has had in being a venture capitalist and entrepreneur. He spoke Wednesday during the CEO Experience conference in Effingham about his experiences and advice for others interested in business ownership.
“It really is a roller coaster ride,” Samuel said. “I’ve had a great experience with being an entrepreneur.”
The Effingham County Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities, or CEO, high school class organized the event for the second year. The students that take the class should find a new appreciation for learning and business, said Craig Lindvahl, one of the founders of the class.
“The students run the whole thing,” Lindvahl said. “Now kids all over the country get the opportunity to do what we did here.”
Midland State Bank has helped support the growth of the program to include 14 classes in Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota, Lindvahl said.
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Speakers such as Samuel shared their experiences to provide examples of what it takes to become successful in their field. The best entrepreneurs are willing to think in a way nobody else has before, Samuel said.
“If it was an easy idea, everybody would be doing it,” Samuel said. “They go after an idea a little off center. They have a vision and belief and follow that path. In many instances, great things can happen.”
Samuel now runs Freestyle, a California-based venture capital firm founded in 2009. The company has raised two funds to invest in other businesses, with the second fund having $40 million, Samuel said.
The Shark Tank television show on ABC has helped provide an educational view of what goes on in making funding decisions for businesses, Samuel said.
Social media is driving marketing efforts for many businesses, said David Orr, a 22-year-old Effingham native and founder of Social Holdings Inc.
“Custom content is the future of marketing,” Orr said. “Internet advertising will account for 25 percent of the market by 2015.”
Orr focuses his efforts on Twitter, but business leaders should decide what format will best allow them to reach their target audience. He said an advertisement that would have cost $4 million to run once during the Super Bowl can be promoted on Twitter every day for almost 3 weeks at the same cost.