Cam Houser, MBA ‘10, is the CEO of 3 Day Startup, an Austin-based academic program designed to teach entrepreneurial skills and enable students to start companies.
What brought you to McCombs for your MBA?
After graduating from Davidson College in 2000, I moved to Austin to do tech startups and play in bands. Both of those endeavors worked out swimmingly: I had a blast making records and playing in Austin’s live music scene as well as working at early stage startups. The bulk of my startup experience came from a company called Despair, Inc and its sister company Amplifier. Being part of the rapid growth of these companies was a life-changing experience and the founders opened my eyes to startups and ecommerce. One of the founders of Amplifier–Joel Bush–had an MBA from Texas and I was really impressed with his wide-ranging capabilities and lens for how he viewed a business. I wanted those same skills and that same perspective on how to run a business so I decided to take the plunge at McCombs.
How did your experience here impact you?
I took away a lot from the program but here are some highlights: I am a firm believer that you are a product of your peers and being surrounded by so many smart, hardworking classmates forced me to step my game up. I did two MBA+ Projects my first semester, which was a great way to get experience in industries where I had none. There was a sales workshop led by a gentleman named Jeff Hoffman that happened each semester that improved my ability to sell by orders of magnitude. The sheer number of presentations you have to give in business school forces you to develop your public speaking skills and I have leaned on that experience a great deal whenever I am speaking to new audiences.
Can you tell me more about 3 Day Startup and how it got started?
3 Day Startup (“3DS”) is the brainchild of two computer science PhD students at UT. They noticed that there are structural challenges inside of universities when it comes to starting new ventures. The “silo problem” is a big one that makes it hard for students to find cofounders: in most schools, the computer science students do not interact much with the design students, who do not interact with the business students, who do not interact with the law students, and so on and so on. And there are other challenges in the university setting: finding investors, developing products, and finding customers are hard to do if you are just starting out and not part of a supportive community.
Our thesis at 3 Day Startup was that a cross-disciplinary, learning-by-doing approach that connected the university and private sector might help students overcome these obstacles. After a crash course in basic principles, the participants jump right into execution on soon-to-be real companies: business students develop revenue models, computer science and engineering students build prototypes, designers create branding and user interfaces, and everyone engages potential customers. The first few programs at UT gave rise to some exciting companies and we were pumped when some other schools asked if they could try a 3 Day Startup on their campuses. We formally incorporated in 2010 and I took over as CEO in 2011. At this point we’ve run 40 events at around 20 schools in the US, Europe, Asia, and South America. The program has given rise to over 33 companies that have collectively raised around $8.5 million in funding.
What do you like the most about your job?
The best part of my job is seeing the transformation that students experience at our programs. More than once I have seen a shy wallflower on day one of 3DS gain the knowledge and confidence to deliver a charismatic, owning-the-room investor pitch and demo on the final day. Watching teams coming out of 3DS cover milestones like raising money, releasing products, and earning revenues is incredibly fulfilling. In the last year, I’ve experienced this process at universities in Portugal, Israel, Chile, Netherlands, France, and Azerbaijan and it never gets old. I love my job. I also have extreme respect for my cofounders which is pretty key in a high-stress, results-driven early-stage environment.
Is there anything new that 3 Day Startup is working on?
Lately, we have been experimenting with our model inside of companies. HomeAway, a publicly traded company based in Austin, asked us to try out a program where we combined their employees’ insights and experience with our forward-thinking, passionate students to start new companies in their ecosystem. The output of this program was some of the best we have seen at any of our 40 events and we are in talks to explore this model with other companies.
What else have you been up to?
A few weeks ago a friend and I released a side project called Anniversary Time Capsule. It’s a fun way for couples to experience their anniversary, but perhaps more importantly, it solves the problem of what you should buy for your significant other on your anniversary.