Kevin O’Connor To Entrepreneurs: Don’t Be Afraid To ‘Throw A Turd In The Punch Bowl’

On stage today at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco, Kevin O’Connor, the former Co-founder of DoubleClick and current Founder and CEO of FindTheBest, offered some pointed advice to aspiring entrepreneurs.

Having co-founded DoubleClick, which was acquired by Google in 2007 for over $3 billion, O’Connor said that a lot of people think he has more money — and perhaps more brains — than he really does. He was being modest, of course, but the truth is that DoubleClick sold twice, and the co-founder was not part of DoubleClick’s second, more lucrative sale to Google. Engineers, which O’Connor is by background, do not always make the savviest businessmen, he said, but they sure can be quotable.

When TC’s Erick Schonfeld asked O’Connor what advice he would give to aspiring entrepreneurs, he said that the most successful entrepreneurs are not only those who are willing to break the rules and disrupt stagnant, fragmented industries, but also those willing to “throw a turd in the punch bowl”. O’Connor’s odd but memorable metaphor is a great image for the true disruptive quality that real innovation can have. (Especially in non-potable ways.)

O’Connor continued on to say that all the great ideas — and the great thinkers — have been delusional to some extent. Or, at least, their ideas seem more than a little far-fetched or crazy, which can be a sign of something poised for innovation — or for a big flop. The key is finding the balance between delusion and foresight.

The FindTheBest Founder said that he remembered first hearing about eBay and saying to one of his friends what a stupid idea an “online flea market” was, that it was something that would never gain traction. His point being that the best ideas can often be the craziest, and sometimes it takes a crazy person to see the clarity in those nutty ideas.

Another big problem that entrepreneurs run into with frequency, he said, is the problem of saying “no”. Entrepreneurs are creative, quick on their feet, and run through an idea a minute, he said. When you’re starting a business, there are one thousand and one things that you can do, but, really, at the end of the day, there are only three or four things that fit into the true strategy of one’s business. The challenge is for entrepreneurs to find those priorities and stick to them with one-pointed focus.

O’Connor, like Intuit Founder Scott Cook yesterday, encouraged startups to tackle the big problems, and not become so wrapped up in the solution.

As we wrote yesterday in summation of Cook’s advice to startup founders: Be careful of “falling in love with the solution rather than focusing on, or being delighted by, the problem. Often, founders end up finding — after much wasted time and frustration — that it is their original vision of the solution that is flawed. But if founders never lose sight of the problem, how teams attack the solution can remain more flexible, more iterative, and in the end make a product more likely to succeed”.

O’Connor said that it was this obsession with the big problem of web users finding it difficult to make significant decisions on the Web that led him to create FindTheBest and develope tech-assisted, human curated decision-making engine.

So find a digital problem that all your friends — geeks and non-geeks alike are having in today’s digital world — and throw a turd in that punch bowl.

That’s right. A turd. Figuratively speaking, of course.