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Napster Co-Founder Stresses Importance of Following Your Passion

May 08, 2013
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Few people know the story behind Napster, one of the first peer-to-peer file-sharing Internet services, from start to finish. John Fanning, the founding chairman and CEO of what became the fastest growing company in Internet history, is one of them. Fanning, who spoke to School of Business students on Mar. 26, started Napster with his nephew, Shawn.

Fanning became interested in entrepreneurship at a young age and got involved with the Internet in its early stages by co-building one of the first online chess servers.

“From a young age, I had this burning desire to do something that would make an impact,” said Fanning. “If you can make an impact and find a way to create even a small amount of value in one individual idea, then you can share that value with someone and make money. The cool thing with technology is that you can resell that value again and again.”

Fanning instilled this lesson in his nephew, Shawn, who worked for him. However, he saw a lack of motivation in his nephew, who he said continually failed to complete the projects he was assigned. When Shawn approached his uncle about dropping out of college after one semester, Fanning told him he would support his decision if he could finish a product before the end of his winter break. Shawn worked for 16 hours a day, seven days a week.

“He worked as hard and as focused as he ever had in his life and he did it because he was passionate about it,” said Fanning.

His determination paid off and the end product was Napster, which grew to eventually serve three times as many users as America Online. Fanning credits Shawn’s passion and stresses the importance of  working on something you are passionate about, as if your life depended on it.

“You need to figure out what you want to do and find that passion, and make that startup be about that,” said Fanning. “It leads to hard work but it is very fulfilling hard work.”

To do this, Fanning suggested avoiding projects that you are not 100 percent committed to, because they will distract you from what you are truly passionate about.

“Time is precious, and you really need to work as hard as you can to make the most of your time,” said Fanning.

Fanning also suggested that young entrepreneurs meet with potential investors in person to get them interested in their start-up.

“The most effective way to get groups of people together, to lead people and to get people to buy into your ideas and be persuasive, is to show up,” said Fanning. “It will give you a unique competitive advantage, because it is not instinctive for a college student to do.”
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