PhilaU President Stephen Spinelli Jr. shared his insights on entrepreneurship and lessons learned from co-founding Jiffy Lube as a featured speaker last week at the University City Science Center Smart Talk.
Although a lot has changed since he helped start Jiffy Lube shortly after graduating from college, Spinelli told the group, “Opportunity recognition and market demand still underpin the entrepreneurial process.”
At the same time, he said the opportunity is greater today for start-ups, driven by such factors as technology, ubiquitous access to data and information, huge opportunities for efficiency and reduced barriers to cross-national trade.
Spinelli, who is a board member of the Science Center, spoke to an engaged audience Oct. 17 at the Smart Talk event, a series of talks designed to give start-ups and growing companies a look at best practices and business strategies from industry leaders.
Of his experience at Jiffy Lube, the leader in the quick lube industry, Spinelli said he “learned as much from failure as from success.” At its start in 1979, when changing oil was “an old, grimy business,” he said the founders had to answer the question “what are we bringing to the table?”
What Jiffy Lube brought to the table was a fast, convenient and inexpensive option to change oil. In fact, while the system was more complicated than it appears on the surface, he said the only thing proprietary about the venture was its name. To help grow the market and revenues, Spinelli said the firm worked to convince customers to change their oil every 3,000 miles, rather than the then-industry standard of 7,500 miles.
“We said, `that’s too long, dirty oil is bad,’” Spinelli recalled. That raised the average oil change per car to 3.2 times per year, up from 2.8 times per year, and as a result, he said, “We just got a bigger market.”
But starting out was not easy and Spinelli acknowledged there were sleepless nights worrying about whether Jiffy Lube would be successful. He said commitment and dedication to one’s business is imperative. “For me,” he said, “changing oil was the most important thing in the world.”
Spinelli also advised those attending to aim big when it comes to starting an enterprise. Small business owners think they can control risk, he said, but that is a false assumption. “At the end of the day,” he said, “you’ll probably risk everything and probably be exhausted, so why not go big?”
After starting up Jiffy Lube, Spinelli earned his MBA and Ph.D. and embarked on an academic career. He became president of PhilaU in 2007; previously he was vice provost and chair of the entrepreneurship division at Babson College.
Philadelphia University encourages innovation and entrepreneurship throughout its academic programs, with support from the Entrepreneurship Center. Philadelphia University also partners with University City Science Center and Temple University to support student entrepreneurs through the Philadelphia area Blackstone LaunchPad, funded with a grant from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation.