Entrepreneurial Lessons from David Eckoff, Part 2

From Entry-Level Accountant to Serial Entrepreneur: David Eckoff Gives Advice to Aspiring Entrepreneurs

In Part 2 of our chat with entrepreneur David Eckoff, he tells us how he started his own business and shares his advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. To learn more, check out Part 1 of our talk with David Eckoff as he shares his lessons about how to successfully use social media to grow your business.

David Eckoff and Peter Gruman, Founders of Pickoff Sports

David Eckoff (right) and Peter Gruman (left), Founders of Pickoff Sports

How do you become an entrepreneur when you’re in a corporate job that has nothing to do with startups?

David Eckoff had just graduated from business school at the University of North Carolina, landing a job as an accountant at IBM in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. While IBM is an internationally respected company, he found he didn’t like accounting. “I loved IBM. But accounting was mind-numbingly boring,” Eckoff said. “And I needed an outlet for my creativity.”

Turning an Idea Into a Business Plan

One day after work, Eckoff was thumbing through an alumni magazine for his alma mater, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and he read an article about two entrepreneurs starting a magazine about UMass sports. He subscribed to the sports magazine on the spot. And then had an “aha!” moment.

“I thought, wouldn’t it be great if there were a similar magazine for UNC sports fans? Basketball and football are huge in Chapel Hill.”

As he began thinking about starting a magazine that covered UNC sports, at first he dismissed the idea as impractical.

“I didn’t have any experience in media or sports or startups,” Eckoff said. “I kept trying not to do this business. But, I kept getting ideas for how to make the business work. So, I carried around a notebook with a page titled, ‘How can I make this work?’ and kept jotting down ideas as I got them.”

Before long, Eckoff had a notebook full of ideas for how to make the business work. This ultimately became a plan that guided his entry to the business that he named Inside Carolina.

This also became a model for how he approaches new things in business.

“When you don’t know how to do something, take out a sheet of paper,” Eckoff said. “Write ‘How can I make this work?’ at the top of the page. Your brain is wired to answer the questions you ask. You’ll start to fill in the answers.  And those answers are the start of a plan that you’ll test.”

Crash Through Obstacles

Success didn’t happen overnight and there were roadblocks aplenty. But, Eckoff didn’t let those obstacles stop him. In fact, he discovered that every person and entrepreneur can relate when something unexpected happens: discouragement and disillusionment ensue and the world sometimes seems like it’s coming to an end. But when you’re an entrepreneur, that comes with the territory.

“Problems will happen,” Eckoff said. “You’re going to run into roadblocks. You’ve got to find a way to get over the roadblock, around it, crash through it, go under it—whatever it takes. If you do that, you’re going to find that you’re able to get through a lot more than what you think you can.”

Wise words to follow, and words that enabled Eckoff to create one of the most successful college sports magazines in the country. In 2000, Eckoff sold Inside Carolina and the magazine remains one of the top college sports publications in the nation.

More Than an Entrepreneurial One-Hit Wonder

Eckoff’s first venture was a success, but he’s more than just a one-hit wonder.

Currently, he is co-founder of Pickoff Sports. With 15 years of entrepreneurial experience in the sports industry, he’s continuing to make a dent in the universe, as Steve Jobs was known to urge people to do.

Eckoff and his co-founder, Peter Gruman, are experts in online sports. They built Rivals.com (later acquired by Yahoo); Gruman was on the executive team at Scout.com (acquired by FOX Sports); together, they pioneered webcasting with the leagues and 300+ college teams at RealNetworks; and Eckoff went on to be VP of New Products at Turner Broadcasting, where he innovated in the business of…online sports.

Get a Great Coach

Today, they’re developing a new kind of platform to better meet the needs of sports fans.

With Pickoff Sports, Eckoff applied to Georgia Tech’s Flashpoint accelerator program. Hundreds of startups applied. Only fourteen were accepted. Getting in is a pretty big deal.

Why did an entrepreneur who already had a track record of success want to participate in a three-month boot camp for startups? Eckoff said he wanted to continue his business education. Plus, he wanted the structure and accountability that comes from an accelerator program.

“Even a world-class athlete needs a great coach,” Eckoff said. “Michael Jordan had the great Phil Jackson as a coach in basketball. I’m fortunate to have Merrick Furst, who runs the Flashpoint program, as my business coach and Alan Taetle of Noro-Moseley Partners as our mentor in Flashpoint. They’ve been fantastic.”

Start Now with a Decision

So if you find yourself in a corporate job, wondering how to get started as an entrepreneur, know that it can be done.

“I didn’t start Inside Carolina to change my career,” Eckoff said. “I started it because I was bored in my job as an accountant and needed a creative outlet. But that one small decision changed my career in ways I never even could have dreamed. When you make a decision, it puts you on a different path. And a path takes you in a new direction. And a new direction comes with a destination. If you want to change your career, start now with a decision.”

Read more about David Eckoff in Part 1 of our talk with him. Follow him on Twitter @DavidEckoff and check out Pickoff Sports on Facebook.