I was watching the documentary called “Something Ventured”, currently being offered on Netflix. It’s certainly a must-see for every entrepreneur and for every wanna-be-entrepreneur. It interviews the early venture capitalist and engineers responsible for both the namesake “VC” and the birthing of Silicon Valley. In any event, there is a scene with one of these pioneer venture capitalist who states something along the following lines: “I usually tell the CEO’s that we fund, yeah you’re going to work very hard and if your lucky, you will be very successful and then you’ll get fired”. Herein lies the tragic case of the hugely successful entrepreneur: hurry up and get there, so that we can fire you and talk about how crude you are…. LOL.
Sadly, sometimes these heroes are dismissed and/or quit during the wrong timing and/or under the wrong set of circumstances or spirit. These brave souls should have been celebrated and thanked for what they built; perhaps even honored in the sense of an advisory board position and/or some kind of emeritus type of title (even if just for fun). Honoring the guys who gave birth can go a long way for the business. The smartest shareholders and boards will learn to harness that unique gifting that the entrepreneur innately possesses.
As a serial entrepreneur, I understand this all too well – fortunately, I have come to learn and know this phenomenon first hand and from both sides of the equation. As a result, I have learned how to manage and harness it to my advantage. I learned a long time ago to evaluate a business from three different perspectives, these are (1) Systems, (2) Structure and (3) Culture – and then of course, the resulting Business Processes that these three aspects collectively create. Apart from the Accounting Reality of a business, how intelligent a company’s business processes are will distinguish the great from the good; and the good from the mediocre. The challenge here is that this measuring stick is dynamic, constantly changing depending on what phase of the lifecycle the respective company may be in at the time of measurement.
In other words, the skill-sets, the business processes and the decision making frameworks (the Ecosystem) required to start and launch a new company are very different, sometimes even at odds with the skill-sets, the business processes and the frameworks required to effectively manage a business once it has gone through a growth phase and/or it has stabilized.
To further simplify and breakdown the above anecdote, I will posit that starting a business from nothing (pure concept/idea) and taking it to anywhere from $50MM to $100MM in revenue within the first year or two (variance based on industry) typically requires 1 to 3 virtuoso personalities (founders) who are hell bent on seeing their idea come into fruition. By the way, the word “virtuoso” is actually code for the range of characteristics from quirky-OCD-ish all the way to complete neurotic asshole. It is these types of personalities that are capable of birthing a start-up business; and it is these types that will accomplish everything that that the textbooks tell you cannot be accomplished.
In order to take the business from the $100MM annual revenue mark, up into the $1 billion plus revenue mark still very much requires the virtuoso aspect. However, most of these types will not survive in this world without learning to adapt and bringing on new capable and experienced team members. This is the stage where enterprise-level procedures and resource accountabilities must be integrated into the business (methodically). To the untrained eye, it’s tempting to assume that the virtuoso’s will thrive even greater now that they have more resources within their arsenal; however, be warned, this is rarely the case. If the virtuoso doesn’t have a metaphorical fire to fight or an insurmountable mountain to scale, they do drag downward. So in order to avoid these inward demons that all entrepreneurs know very well, the virtuoso tends to run in 3 or 4 different directions over the course of a year, haphazardly and in a very costly manner jumping from idea to idea. This then leaves the team with a sense of shifting priorities and a lack of purpose, because there is an overall lack of well defined corporate strategy. Great companies do things on purpose, not frantically.
I have seen business cases where the old “Law of the Lid” applies and an entrepreneur, no matter how great his/her unique skill set may perform in a silo, he/she just cannot take his/her business to the next level so long as they remain in Lone Ranger fashion. From one perspective, this is a good sign, because it means that the vision and idea is a big one – any truly big vision will always require a team and is bigger than any one team member, even the birthing entrepreneur. Alternatively, the real travesty is when I see brilliant entrepreneurs never successfully take their business to their fullest potential because of their small minded thinking… this is where I am reminded of John Maxwell’s Law of the Lid. In this case, the entrepreneur has a great idea and has even done a great job at birthing the business and proving the concept on a local or regional scale, but now it’s time to grow the hell out of this great proven concept. To my above-referenced point, it will take other equally and/or even greater personalities to take it to the next level. In this case, the virtuoso’s greatest challenge is learning to trust in people and come to terms with the fact that what got him/her from point A to point B will not get him/her to point C, D or E. This is not an easy decision at all, but then again, the average person has a greater chance at getting struck by lightening than at building a billion dollar a year company.
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