From the November 2000 issue of Startups

However you identify it, you can be sure every young entrepreneur needs it. Unshakeable confidence in this dotcom world is just as important as capital, location and an imaginative URL. A significant part of that equation is the ability to demonstrate mettle-to raise the stakes even when you're only holding a pair of tens. Enter Sean Rones, founder and CEO (the acronym aptly translating into Cowboy, Entrepreneur, Oddball) of World Footprint LLC, a San Diego media firm. The 35-year-old bull rider brings his no-holds-barred grit from the bullring into the workplace, invariably arriving at business meetings decked out in full cowboy garb-spurs, chaps and bull rope included-ready to bombard companies with his array of ideas. Unrelenting until his proposals are discussed, understood and met, he has no qualms about handcuffing himself to the doors of an office or going John Wayne style and riding his horse outside a building, demanding to speak with the company president. Rones, in fact, saddled up and mosied into our very own Start-Ups headquarters in full cowboy garb, prepared to camp out until we talked to him.

Inane? Maybe. Excessive? Probably. Effective? No question. How else would you describe it, given that Rones has used his eccentric ways to launch the only media firm on the planet with the rights to sell outdoor advertising for dotcom companies during the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia? "At the end of the day," he says, "if I haven't maintained the same passion I had in the beginning, then I'm not successful."

Certainly, several other factors have helped facilitate his company's rise, but at the root of it all is Rones' unrestrained, fearless attitude. Here, we take a close look at his success and try to figure out how far this approach to business can take you.

The Struggle To Succeed

What sets Rones apart from most entrepreneurs is his maverick method in tackling everything from business to life in general. After launching WorldFootprint.com in early 1999, Rones and his partner, Eric Davis, 35, decided the ideal event to entice dotcom advertisers would be the Olympics. And why not? After all, an estimated 3.2 million people were scheduled to attend and cheer on the 240 countries represented in Australia.

Upon landing in Sydney for negotiations, however, Rones endured his share of problems. He encountered Aussie "cronies" who threatened his life for a percentage of his company and elbowed with local monopolies that dominated the advertising industry-the latter not too keen on the idea of a foreign company potentially moving in on them. Both factors made the proposition of packing it up and returning to the States a reasonable option. But Rones thrives on roadblocks and recenters them as motivational tools. "If there weren't any obstacles, I probably wouldn't be as successful," he explains. "Rejection makes me more gutsy and passionate. And I use that energy positively."

Using several Australian connections he had made while playing baseball in Brisbane during the early 1990s, Rones took advantage of the misconception that advertising rights for the Olympics were already taken. The fact that Australians found it difficult to sell the choice ad space also helped matters.

In a little over a year's time, Rones succeeded in landing the rights, making WorldFootprint the only source for dotcom companies to gain exposure without having to be an official Olympic sponsor. The company offers advertisers the opportunity to purchase space and market their URLs and products all across Sydney on taxis, buses, trains, billboards and buildings-using almost every vehicle imaginable but the country's kangaroos and koalas. Rones anticipates selling $25 million in advertising space, and once his corralling of Sydney is complete, he plans to set his eyes on the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City as well as the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

Similarities Of Bull-Riding And Entrepreneurship

Rones began bull-riding two years ago, simply on a whim. The idea of taking on yet another challenge-in this case, an animal as large as an Oldsmobile-appealed to Rones, and he sought bull-riding as a means to exercise his wits. "I have to concentrate, keep the fear in front of me and react when I ride," he says. "There's a spirituality involved, a certain focus."

Earning the moniker "Skunk Youngblood" in the rodeo circuit, Rones rides bulls much like he manages his business-he's motivated to complete every task he sets before him, no matter how ominous.

According to Rones, the similarities between the corporate field and the bullring run fairly deep. And he emphasizes that every entrepreneur can relate to the common grind in some manner. "Every day in business, you take your rap, so to speak," he says. "Some days you last eight seconds; some days you don't. But every time you get bucked off a bull, you have to have the mentality that you can't wait to hop right back on."

Rones takes the analogy a step further by implying that, like all young entrepreneurs just starting their businesses, even the most experienced bull riders have tasted fear. Your reaction to adversity is what predicts your outcome. Rones explains: "When trying to market your company, you can't be intimidated by the levels of management and the people hiding behind their voice mails. You have to believe that this way of thinking will only lead to rewards."

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Yet Rones doesn't rely on his dynamic makeup alone to keep himself afloat. He creates his balance by always entering an appointment with a strategic game plan. "Once the chute opens to release the bull," he says, "or once the client [shows interest], that's when you have to perform and anticipate and counter each of their moves."

This philosophy is evident in Rones' current venture, a movie titled (what else?) Skunk Youngblood (www.skunkyoungblood.com). It's a vision he's long wanted to realize. "Entrepreneurs have to take risks," he says. "Dreams only become reality through execution." Presently in negotiations, Rones describes the project as the only film funded by the Internet.

Rones has proved he's one entrepreneur made of sterner stuff. His gutsy flair is a confluence of raw, overzealous ambition, an affinity for taking risks and a knack for charismatic leadership that convinces others to follow, mainly through curiosity. His story is a testament that it's not the size of the bull that matters, but the size of an entrepreneur's heart. "Someone show me the instructions to life, then I'll follow them," Rones says. "Until then, everyone creates their own positive direction."

Head Of The Class

Sean Rones carries on a long-standing

Tradition of going cojones-out in order to convey a message and help shape an industry. Here are some more gutsy entrepreneurs we won't soon forget:

1. Howard Hughes, founder of Hughes Aircraft Co.

  • Along with a four-member crew, Hughes broke the world record by piloting around the globe in three days, 19 hours and eight minutes on a Lockheed Model 14.
  • He also broke practically every bone in his body after crashing a new aircraft during a test run.

2. Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, co-founders of Desilu Productions

  • After network executives showed little interest in producing a show that portrayed the Latin Arnaz married to the popular Ball, the couple created the first independent TV production company in order to produce the pilot for I Love Lucy, making themselves their own bosses.
  • Also, rather than broadcasting live shows, they were the first to tape their episodes, thereby inventing reruns.

3. Richard Branson, founder of The Virgin Group

  • Branson was the first man to cross the Atlantic in a hot-air balloon, which reached speeds of 130 mph.
  • He also sailed the Thames River with the Sex Pistols, who sang "God Save the Queen" as they passed the House of Commons.

4. Philip Knight, co-founder of Nike

  • Early on, Knight recruited notoriously brash track star Steve Prefontaine and tennis bad boy John McEnroe to market his line of shoes. Soon, everyone wanted to have what the top athletes were wearing.
  • Nike corporate employees took part in conferences where tequila fountains were standard and confrontations were encouraged.

Source:Radicals and Visionaries: Entrepreneurs Who Revolutionized the 20th Century (Entrepreneur Press) by Thaddeus Wawro