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Keys to Leonsis's success: Networking and dedication to work, no matter how menial
Take his friend, Vincent Pica, who helped get Leonsis, 24 at the time, an interview with bigwigs at the E.F. Hutton stock brokerage firm to pitch them an idea for a magazine focused on the then-emerging computer industry. He called it LIST, for Leonsis Index to Software Technology. The bigwigs gave him $1 million, telling Leonsis: "We are going to bet the jockey, not the horse."
The jockey made Hutton $15 million on the deal.
One of the things I liked about the book was how it details Leonsis's willingness to take risks and be bold. Often, he followed his gut.
"My smartest move early on was identifying the coming convergences [involving computers and telecommunications] that would make this new media industry. I put myself in that flow and was able to launch companies and be first to market with a lot of things."
By founding LIST magazine, which turned a profit its first year, Leonsis was a pioneer in the computer market.
"Being the first in the market was very important," he said. "We were the first mover. We also did a great job of networking to all of the influencers, like IBM, Apple, Mitch Kapor," founder of one of personal computing's first hit software applications, the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet program.
Kapor gave LIST instant credibility when he invited Leonsis to sell the magazine in the same room as Kapor's launch event for Lotus. "Then Steve Jobs said, 'I want to do it, too.' "
Leonsis said one of his strengths as an entrepreneur is being blessed with a high level of communication skills. I have sat through enough Leonsis conversations to attest to his ability to frame a message and convey it in a way that is easily understandable.
"You have to be consistent," he said. "You don't want people to think you are on an 'idea de jour.' "
Clearly, Leonsis has done much right in his career. His biggest mistake?
"Listening to experts and signing [NHL star] Jaromir Jagr. Everyone said we were one player away and with another guy who could score, we would win the Stanley Cup and sell out every game."
Leonsis signed Jagr to the largest contract in NHL history at the time, paying him $11 million a year over seven years. It was part of a strategy to build a championship team by bringing in established stars such as Jagr and Robert Lang. After the Capitals lost to Tampa Bay in the first round of the 2003 playoffs, Leonsis agreed to dismantle the team and start from scratch.
Jagr was traded to the New York Rangers in 2004. To cement the deal, Leonsis had to agree to pick up $4 million of Jagr's annual salary at the Rangers.
"I wasn't smart or experienced enough yet," Leonsis said. "I learned that if you are successful, everyone takes credit. Unsuccessful, you are alone."
He isn't alone these days.
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