Norm Brodsky, sage of startups, speaks at TrepCon

Don’t pick Norm Brodsky, today’s TrepCon keynote speaker, as your academic role model.

He ranked in the bottom 5 percent of his high school class.
He placed in the bottom 10 percent of his college class.
He landed in the bottom 20 percent of his law school class.

The guy knows more than a thing or two about entrepreneurship, though. He founded six businesses and is no stranger to profit, selling one of his companies a few years back for nine figures. Mr. Brodsky latches onto opportunity like a burr to a sweater, seeing a chance for profit where other people might see nothing at all.

Listen to this story:

One day, decades ago, a woman cold-called Mr. Brodsky’s trucking business asking if his company stored boxes, because she had 27 boxes to store. The company did no such thing — storage wasn’t its game. But rather than turn the woman away, the customer-service rep who answered the call said he’d get back to her.

The rep took the question to Mr. Brodsky, who also could’ve simply said, “No, we don’t store boxes.” But Mr. Brodsky didn’t. Instead, he picked up the phone and made some calls of his own.

Whom did he call? Other storage companies. Pretending to be a customer with (you guessed it) 27 boxes in need of storage, he got quotes around $175 and pickup estimates of a few days. Then he phoned the woman back. Yes, his company stored boxes, he said. It cost $75, and he could pick up her items within an hour. Lo and behold, there was his first storage customer. He piled the woman’s 27 boxes in his office the next day, and CitiStorage was born. The company, which Mr. Brodsky eventually sold in 2007 for $110 million, now stores 4.5 million boxes in two enormous warehouses in New York City.

Mr. Brodsky, right, with Ed Morrissey, partner at Deloitte, which provided lead sponsorship for TrepCon2012.

During his speech at the kick-off of today’s TrepCon, the Gabelli School’s annual Entrepreneurship Conference, Mr. Brodsky gave students a bunch of advice on starting your own company, including:

  • Your network is your most valuable asset. Build it by doing favors for people, and do those favors now, while you’re at Fordham. “This is a great place to do it. A lot of people sitting in this room today are going to be the leaders of tomorrow.”
  • Education is invaluable. “Go to school for as long as someone will pay for it, or for as long as you can afford.”
  • Opportunities are everywhere. Look for them. They may come in the form of 27 boxes.

You may have missed Mr. Brodsky’s talk this morning, but you haven’t missed all of TrepCon! The Entrepreneurship Conference continues tomorrow, Thursday, November 15, 2012, with a full slate of events. Student tickets are free.

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