Alamo Drafthouse CEO speaks as part of UT Entrepreneurship week

Rund Khayyat

The path of an entrepreneur can be very risky to undertake, said Tim League, founder and CEO of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.

League, who spoke Wednesday at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center, described the hardships of breaking into the entrepreneurial world at a talk that was part of UT Entrepreneurship week — a series of lectures designed to encourage students to develop their own businesses.

“You have to be prepared for the absolute worst — like bankruptcy, losing all your relationships and completely ruining your reputation.” League said. “Yeah, if you’re not comfortable with that, pick a different career path.”

An important rule for young entrepreneurs is that they be frugal with expenses, which includes self-education to save on expenses, League said.

“In the early days, instead of spending $20,000 on a lawyer, we learned to do contracts on our own,” League said. “It is possible, and vital, to learn any trade as an entrepreneur.” 

League pursued a career in engineering before he leased a movie theater at the age of 23 with no prior business knowledge. The theater failed after two years, but it provided an entrepreneurial education, League said.

“My wife and I spent $5,000 a year total on personal expenses,” League said. “We literally lived behind the big movie screen, and we would shower in the mop closet.”

After this, League moved to Austin to open Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. He revolutionized movie theaters by providing an eclectic movie selection and a dine-in experience, interview conductor Nick Spiller said. 

Promoting innovative ideas and programs is a key to success, according to League. He said an example of this would be showing international movies that would otherwise not have an American release.

“I worked at the Alamo Drafthouse, and we had a program that featured Asian films once a month,” finance sophomore Johnny Vo said.

The dine-in experience is a key feature of the Alamo Drafthouse, an idea that was rooted in entrepreneurial curiosity and willingness to find inspiration anywhere, according to League.

“My wife and I spent our honeymoon spying on a movie theater that partnered with restaurants,” League said. “We liked that as a distinguishing factor.”

When they attempted to get a wine license, they discovered there is a manner of discrimination against young entrepreneurs that is very rampant.

“I looked too young, so I had to hire a middle-aged white guy in a suit to get the license. Then, I had no problem,” League said. “You have to accept this discrimination is there — just learn to play it.”