Interview: how to start a business

Billionaire investor, inventor of the touch-screen and philanthropist, Bela Hatvany, on starting your own business, creating a business plan & tech news.

Six questions with bela hatvany

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Bela Hatvany, the billionaire inventor of the touch screen, kindly agreed to an interview with me this week. I'm fascinated by him for several reasons.

He has been a trailblazer embracing values that were seen as outlandish forty years ago when he was a tech startup CEO and founder. He has been meditating daily, for over 50 years, which I do too, and have done daily for the last six years. 

He worked for some large corporations which he experienced as 'penal servitude' with a style that was 'authoritative and dictatorial'. In many ways, he was a template for the values of today's millennial employee.

Bela has long disagreed with many old school style management principles such as top down decision making. He's always encouraged a holistic approach to employee development which encompasses body mind spirit. He's been driven to create companies that share his strong ethics and integrity.

Did I mention that he moved to the USA, once founded a business in Mexico City and now lives in the South of France, where you will find him driving around in his new Tesla (pictured right)? Bela also moved to the US mid-career to get his MBA at Harvard University.                                     

Bela Hatvany, billionaire investor and inventor of the touch screen, in his new Tesla, Nice, France.

Bela Hatvany, billionaire investor and inventor of the touch screen, in his new Tesla, Nice, France.


Crowdfunding with JustGiving 

Six questions about entrepeneurship with bela

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1. From Zach Binge, Associate Data Analytics Consultant at McGregor Boyall.   Did he come up with these business ideas through problems he was noticing in his day to day life or was it from “brainstorming business ideas or a sudden idea”?

My first business was just luck. I founded my first company, COMSISA, in Mexico City, which computerised and served sugar mills and local companies. 

My second business was through seeing problems I was noticing in my life.

I needed to access information for work, which I found hard to do. CLSI was the first company to develop the minicomputer for use in libraries. After returning to live in London in 1981, I sold it to Thyssen Bornemisza in 1983.

My third business was founding Silverplatter. I wanted a better way to store information and decided to try using the CD Rom. So my company was the first to put library information on CD Roms. I sold Silverplatter to Wolters Kluwer for $113 Million in 2001.

2. Tell me about how you invented the touch screen?

When I was working in the library business, I was figuring out a way to be able to move information around on the screen itself. I remembered the solution to a problem I had come up with when I was an engineering student at St Andrews University and applied it to this problem. 

I pulled an engineer in our team onto the problem. Henry NG, was able to insert metal between two sheets of glass that we could then use to set up basic touch screen technology. Therefore, In 1980, with Henry Ng, I invented the touch screen, which is now used on smartphones and tablets.

3. What was your best day and worst day of work as an entrepreneur?

At CLSI, it was getting my first big contract, which was enough to persuade investors to put in seed money. At CLSI, we also went bankrupt, and I was fired from my own company. So that was my best and worst day both at the same company.

4. What motivates you as an entrepreneur? 

Anger. Initially, I was incensed at how badly I was being managed as an employee in some large corporations. My managers were stupid and greedy. I knew I could do a better job myself. So I founded my first company to prove it to myself and them.  

When I decided to finance Just Giving, I had long been incensed by the waste and corruption in the charitable giving sector. Frequently 100% of your donation was going to the administration of the charity.

In effect, none of the public contributions was reaching them. Just Giving brought down the charity administrative costs from an average of 30% to only 5%.

I knew there must be a better way to run charities. But it was not until the internet came along that I figured out what that was. (Blackbaud purchased Justgiving for £95 Million in 2017).

5. If I wanted to become a business owner today, what advice would you give me?

A troubling trend I've noticed growing in our society is that of victimhood. People do not take charge of their lives. 

We can see this recently with the flooding in England. The Dutch have brilliant technology that has mastered these problems centuries ago already. The Dutch reclaimed over half their country from the sea. So why can't we in the UK do this on a smaller scale in the twenty-first century? 

Stop thinking of yourself as a victim of your circumstances. When Viktor Frankl (author of 'Man's Search for Meaning') was imprisoned in a concentration camp and survived, while countless others perished, he was asked 'how did you do it?' He replied that 'everyone else in there chose to believe they were starving. I chose to believe that I was fasting'.

6. Give me a quote or philosophy of life you love! 

Over the years, many, many people, often very powerful ones, have asked me 'when will that be completed?'. Typically they are pushing me for a deadline. Everywhere around me increasingly, I see people are becoming less and less patient. 

Ironically this demand for employees to be 'always on', and continually mutl-tasking and working to deadlines has made them less productive whilst also damaging their health. 

You are seeing all kinds of negative reactions to this widely adopted management philosophy; From alcoholism to obesity, from broken marriages to career burnout and mental health issues.

Over my career, whenever people have urged me with this question 'when will this project be completed?' I reply 'in the fullness of time'!

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Are you motivated to become an entrepeneur by anger at poor management or because you experience work in a corporation to be like prison? You might be just like billionaire Bela Hatvany.