Trae Ratliff, an alumnus who turned his class project into the Rapid Area Transit System (RATS), delivered the Battenfield-Carletti Distinguished Entrepreneur Lecture at Northeastern State University on Feb. 1.
Speaking to a packed auditorium in the W. Roger Webb Educational Technology Center, Ratliff told of his experiences during his two-year entrepreneurial venture before becoming an employee for Yellowbook USA and an agent for Shelter Insurance. He is also owner-operator of The Lost Pines Ranch. One of the younger alumni invited to the lectureship, he discussed challenges recent graduates often face in business.
A Tahlequah native, Ratliff graduated from NSU in the spring of 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in business and an emphasis in NSU’s newly established entrepreneur program. He conceived of RATS as a way to ferry patrons to and from local taverns.
"Between 1999 and 2002 there was a 66 percent increase in DUIs within the Tahlequah city limits – it was more than one a day," Ratliff said. "I submitted the business plan while at NSU and it eventually it led to the RATS bus, which my mom bought me for $1,800. The business opened in the fall of 2003."
RATS was successful in its first year and Ratliff expanded to Stillwater. However, he believed the plan's potential was never achieved. He was unable to find backing for a non-cash fare payment method for passengers.
"When people visit bars, they aren't carrying $5, $10 or $15," he said. "They spend their cash in the bars."
Ratliff also played a short clip of a question asked by one of his passengers: "Do you like driving drunken people around?"
"That really hit home for me because I realized I didn't like it," he said."That is something to think about when you graduate, whether starting your own business or getting a job. It is important to like what you do. Even if you have a unique idea no one else has thought of, it doesn't mean you will like it. I asked myself if RATS was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life or if it was time to close that chapter."
After offering advice such as identifying one's own flaws and remembering that more money earned means more money spent, Ratliff closed by asking the audience what would be written in their obituaries.
"Will it say something about a multi billionaire or a business failure," he asked. "No, it will be about who you were off the clock. Take that into consideration. Who are you? Find yourself. Take some time while you are here to remember the most important things. Achieve those things, slowly and steadily."
While at NSU, Ratliff served as vice president of the Entrepreneurship Club, a placekicker for the NSU football team and the recipient of the NSU Student Entrepreneur Award in 2004.
Established in 2002 through the NSU Foundation by Dr. Harold Battenfield and Dr. John Carletti, the Battenfield-Carletti Distinguished Entrepreneur Lectureship Series invites two NSU alumni entrepreneurs each year to speak to students.
Published: 2/2/2012 11:24:23 AM