Richard Liang, Founder & CEO of BUZZtheBar
Published: Friday, October 19, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 19, 2012 14:10
The Bottom Line caught up with Richard Liang, founder and CEO of the exciting new nightlife app, BUZZtheBar.
What's your background?
I am a native New Yorker, grew up in Brooklyn, and graduated from Stuyvesant High School – even though I spent my freshman year at the Bronx High School of Science. Given the close proximity of the school to the twin towers, one of my most vivid high school memories was 9/11. When the first tower was hit, we all thought it was just an exploding truck tire – and continued French class. Ten minutes later the entire school was summoned, we could feel the earth shaking underneath our feet, and the rest of the semester collapsed a blur as our classes were held in different places around the city.
I then left the city to attend the University of Michigan, studied math and economics, and landed a “glamorous” job at Jefferies, a middle-market investment bank. Akin to most novice bankers, I transitioned to a private equity fund, where I shifted from work on pitch decks to term sheets. The private equity experience gave me a chance to work with amazing entrepreneurs, which was a double-edged sword. I had always wanted to run my own venture, but after observing all these amazing companies, I thought that I could never innovate – after all, everything worth doing was already done. Besides, finance guys close deals, they do not start companies.
Columbia Business School was a natural next step to give myself time and the resources to figure out my next career move. Investing was fun, but I figured school would be way more awesome.
How did you get the idea for BUZZtheBar?
Ironically, Columbia’s Connect II event in April 2011 sparked my idea for BUZZtheBar. In many ways, that day changed my life.
I was sitting in a lecture room with other admitted students and Professor Bill Duggan, who teaches Napoleon’s Glance, gave a lecture on innovation. An epiphany suddenly hit me when Professor Duggan spoke about innovation and how Napoleon’s brilliance was nothing more than taking existing military technologies (e.g. a cannon) and applied them in different situations. Anyone can innovate, in any industry.
Shortly thereafter, I thought about two successful products—restaurant buzzers & mobile food ordering—and applied the idea to nightlife, specifically bars, to create BUZZtheBar. Why nightlife? It’s a booming industry that’s exceptionally slow to innovate and labor-intensive. The last time that bars embraced change was when they introduced credit cards. I wanted to be the catalyst for that change.
How did Columbia Business School help you launch and promote BUZZtheBar?
Columbia has been critical to the success of my venture. I exampled out of many Core classes during my first year and focused my coursework on marketing and entrepreneurship. In many ways, Columbia gave me the confidence and the resources to pursue my dream in a way that was enjoyable and not nearly as stressful as trying to launch a business from my apartment. I am lucky to have a very strong support network, which includes fellow entrepreneurs, students, and administration.
Do you have a management team?
There aren’t really management teams in a startup – we’re just a group of crazy volunteers, dedicated to eliminating wait time. When I say volunteers, I mean it; none of us have seen a penny from the venture yet. I funded the venture completely out of my savings and recruit people based on level of enthusiasm and former experience. In return, everyone receives an amazing learning experience in entrepreneurship and a chance to build an exciting new venture.
Do you have outside investors?
Investors have approached us, offering cash to help us growth. However, we’re working to build a business, not to seek funding – the two are very different. Cash is a commodity, dedicated partners with the expertise and Rolodex/Linked In connections to help us grow are hard to find. I guess my background as an investor taught me that. Sentinel always offered more than just money, and it’s worked out very well for all parties involved.
What specific courses helped you in your venture?
Napoleon’s Glance inspired me to start running this startup marathon, and Innovate or Die by Professor Harris kept me going after I hit the wall – this happens way more than you’d think. The class ended at 9pm, but I was so inspired by the entrepreneurs in the course that when I went home after, I would stay up until 3am working on my idea. Professor Harris taught me to never take no as an answer and that success does not depend on pedigree but really comes down to determination.
In Steve Blank’s Lean Launchpad, I learned how to test and explore my idea effectively. The course actually inspired me to propose a new program to OSA – a mini-entrepreneurship course that would be part of orientation for first-year students. I am currently working with the administration to figure out the details but I think it would be very exciting to offer incoming students a chance to explore an entrepreneurship as a career path. The course would be focused on the basics behind entrepreneurship – figure out a problem, identify a solution, and test that solution with a potential client base.