What Makes an Entrepreneur (5/11) – Inspiration

Posted on Dec 19, 2009 | 126 comments


martin-luther-king2This is part of my new series on what makes an entrepreneur successful.  I originally posted it onVentureHacks, one of my favorite websites for entrepreneurs. If you haven’t spent time over there you should.

I started the series talking about what I consider the most important attribute of an entrepreneur : Tenacity.  I then covered Street Smarts, Ability to Pivot and Resiliency.

Several people asked about the differences between tenacity and resiliency.  I like to describe tenacity as “leaning forward.”  It’s those things that you push for – in which you never accept “no” for an answer.  Resiliency, on the other hand, is about being able to withstand punches and still keep fighting.  What to understand resiliency? Watch this awesome 46 second video from RockyAnyone who has been an entrepreneur before will tell you that much of being successful in the early days is about pure survival.  Much is also about luck and timing.

And we know that being stubbornly tenacious without the “street smarts” to know when market conditions are changing and then “pivoting” when they are  changing is a recipe for failure.  It’s why I believe PalmPilot missed the important shifts to email that RIM (Blackberry) saw.   In turn Blackberry missed the Internet and still has a sucky browser after all these years.

So tenacity and resiliency alone are not enough.  All traits of an entrepreneur must be exercised in concert.

Toby Murdock told this interesting story in the comments of my last post (typos fixed):

… my last start-up was seed funded by a mega-successful angel … [but] they would not be investing in the third tranche … I had already burned the little savings I had to get the business going and with the story of this investor pulling out hanging around us, it was going to be very difficult to raise from somewhere else. We were screwed. Visions of not being able to afford my mortgage, moving my wife and kids out, shot into my head.

But in that moment of hearing the news, I tried to remind myself that dwelling in the negative never helps, that in fact every kick to the head provides motivation to crank it up. So instead of being horrified and deflated for the rest of that meeting, I let it rip and dazzled him about the progress that we’d made and where we were headed. He … said that his fund would actively help in getting us the next round.

… Not too long thereafter the angel was back in, in a bigger round, no more tranche’s, with new investors to boot. And the end of the story was ultimately a successful sale of the company … so much of entrepreneurship is not sexy but brutal. You have to push ahead through the kicks to the head … such setbacks are a normal part of the process and the key element is just how you react to them.

Many entrepreneurs struggle with their setbacks.  Many become bitter at investors or circumstances.  Some “kick it up a gear” and react how Toby did.  And I’ll bet that the leadership he displayed helped his angel decide he had the character worth backing.

Some readers of this blog also pointed out that “pivoting” can be disruptive on the employees of an organization.  So can all of the constant hiring & firing – the natural churn of an early-stage business.  That’s true.  But that’s where the next trait becomes so critical.

5. Inspiration/ Leadership – As an entrepreneur you’re always under-resourced.  You want to hire a crack team of developers but you haven’t raised enough money yet.  You want that key marketing resource from Google but he’s on afat salary that  you can’t match.  You’re trying to get you contacts to get you that introduction to Ron Conway to sprinkle his legitimacy on your company through an angel investment.  All of these things are nearly impossible for most entrepreneurs.  And tenacity alone won’t yield positive results.  In fact, tenacity with no inspiration is often annoying yet with a little ‘inspiration’ and charm it can be motivating.

Often entrepreneurs show me their management team slides with the names of the people who are going to join him once they’re funded.  I usually jokingly respond, “maybe you’re not an entrepreneur?”  This always gets people to sit up straight ;-)  I say, “listen, nearly every successful entrepreneur I’ve ever met has a certain ‘X-Factor’ about them that makes people take notice. I know that these people who you want to join you are in comfortable positions at brand name companies and don’t want to take the risk of joining you.  But when the right entrepreneur comes along they think, ‘I’ve got to join this person now.  I think this is going to be hugely successful and I don’t want to miss the opportunity.'”

The best entrepreneurs are like that. When you’re around them it’s almost contagious.  They are passionate about what they’re doing, they’re confident about their success and they’re driven to make it happen.  Sure, they have self doubt when they’re alone in the mirror but you’d never know it from seeing them in the office.  And what you need to know is that for every chart you put up with the people who are going to join you when you’re funded I see companies that have actually gotten the team on board with no more cash in the bank than you have.

Whenever I’m watching someone present to me I’m often thinking to myself, “Can this person inspire others?  And inspiration is so important because not only is it required to hire and lead your team but it’s required to get customers to work with you when by all means they should not.  You’ve got less than 6 months’ cash in the bank and your product isn’t really fully baked.  But they have confidence that you’ll get there even if they don’t acknowledge this to themselves.  TechCrunch is going to cover you.  They probably shouldn’t because you’re a bit more hype than reality right now.  But they sense your trajectory.  They get a sixth sense that you’re going to pull this thing off.

 

Inspiration goes a long way in business. And in life.  Go watch Invictus – you’ll see what I mean.

Next post is Perspiration.  Because inspiration isn’t enough.

  • http://mikebracco.com/ Mike Bracco

    Hey Mark – a great post once again. I love the Rocky clip. I wanted to comment here and point you to one of the most inspiring stories I have ever come across. It's Tony Robbins going through the back story on what Stallone went through to get the first Rocky movie made. Truly worth the 10min listen – amazing story! http://mikebracco.com/blog/true-story-behind-th

  • http://twitter.com/t_bone_burnett Tbone

    Mark- Couldn't agree with you more on this. When I'm working with my artists, we really focus on working from a space of inspiration vs. desperation. I've been reading all of your posts, and this seems to capture the essence of entrepreneurship. What's you're take on intuition?

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thanks, Mike. Chris had flagged that video in the comments above and I watched it for the first time this morning. Truly inspirational.

  • http://twitter.com/piplzchoice Gregory Yankelovich

    I'd like to ask for clarification. You wrote “for every chart you put up with the people who are going to join you when you’re funded I see companies that have actually gotten the team on board with no more cash in the bank than you have.” How often do you see a team abandoning their paying jobs to join an entrepreneur without any pay? How long such a team can continue on the project? I am a big fan of lean startup methodology, but one needs time to learn, persevere, pivot, iterate, etc. and the time is very short without cash flow.

  • http://richineverysense.blogspot.com/ scheng1

    I'm sure those who arrange the Copenhagen Summit wish they have heed the advice. It's a waste of time to gather the world leaders and then do nothing.

  • http://twitter.com/t_bone_burnett Tbone

    Mark- Couldn't agree with you more on this. When I'm working with my artists, we really focus on working from a space of inspiration vs. desperation. I've been reading all of your posts, and this seems to capture the essence of entrepreneurship. What's you're take on intuition?

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  • http://twitter.com/piplzchoice Gregory Yankelovich

    I'd like to ask for clarification. You wrote “for every chart you put up with the people who are going to join you when you’re funded I see companies that have actually gotten the team on board with no more cash in the bank than you have.” How often do you see a team abandoning their paying jobs to join an entrepreneur without any pay? How long such a team can continue on the project? I am a big fan of lean startup methodology, but one needs time to learn, persevere, pivot, iterate, etc. and the time is very short without cash flow.

  • http://richineverysense.blogspot.com/ scheng1

    I'm sure those who arrange the Copenhagen Summit wish they have heed the advice. It's a waste of time to gather the world leaders and then do nothing.

  • http://www.trafficspaces.com Niyi

    Mark, great choice of photos.

    The story behind the photo of Mandela in a Springbok rugby shirt is particularly touching. That single act united the whole of South Africa after decades of brutal apartheid policies.

  • http://www.logicalconsensus.com Lucas Dailey

    Thank you for the great response. I don’t mean to suggest investment decisions should weigh anything besides potential return. One of the things I appreciate most about you is your ability to view the world with an economists perspective. I study macro for fun because it’s a powerful tool for understanding the world as it actually works, how people actually behave.

    Personally, when I view the world through an economist’s perspective, the amorality of it is a major and tremendously useful part, but it can obfuscate the sparks of “goodness” that might start a fire of new utility for employees and customers.

    craigslist would be a good example of hidden potential for a “goodness” utility. In its early days how many investors/employees would have seen the potential? I would guess anyone that new Craig well, but that potential probably wouldn’t have shown up in their decks (had they gone that route). That potential was certainly realized by its employees and provided a meaning source of inspiration.

  • Shane

    I played flyhalf at Babson College. How long ago did you play?

  • http://www.trafficspaces.com Niyi

    Mark, great choice of photos.

    The story behind the photo of Mandela in a Springbok rugby shirt is particularly touching. That single act united the whole of South Africa after decades of brutal apartheid policies.

  • http://www.logicalconsensus.com Lucas Dailey

    Thank you for the great response. I don’t mean to suggest investment decisions should weigh anything besides potential return. One of the things I appreciate most about you is your ability to view the world with an economists perspective. I study macro for fun because it’s a powerful tool for understanding the world as it actually works, how people actually behave.

    Personally, when I view the world through an economist’s perspective, the amorality of it is a major and tremendously useful part, but it can obfuscate the sparks of “goodness” that might start a fire of new utility for employees and customers.

    craigslist would be a good example of hidden potential for a “goodness” utility. In its early days how many investors/employees would have seen the potential? I would guess anyone that new Craig well, but that potential probably wouldn’t have shown up in their decks (had they gone that route). That potential was certainly realized by its employees and provided a meaning source of inspiration.

  • Shane

    I played flyhalf at Babson College. How long ago did you play?

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  • http://www.vumedi.com Roman Giverts

    Mark,
    I appreciate the fact that you don't ever write about politics. Certain other VCs build up a big audience based on tech, entrepreneurship posts etc, and then sucker punch you with articles about politics. It really annoys me and I consider unsubscribing each time.

    There are many political bloggers out there, I (and probably most everyone else) read these blogs to think about tech… not politics. The last thing I want to do is talk politics on a tech vc blog. It's like going to see a funny movie and finding out it's a drama once you're inside. Even if the drama is good, I would still be annoyed.

    my 2 cents…

  • http://www.vumedi.com Roman Giverts

    What's interesting about these series of posts is the contrast of qualities. What other job do you go from flipping burgers to being an inspirational leader in the same day? That's what makes it so hard.

    So many people I see have the high level characteristics, but not the work ethic and humility to get stuff done. And others can get stuff done but can't think and act at a high enough level to grow something big.

  • http://www.vumedi.com Roman Giverts

    Personally, I see it a lot in successful companies. Not everyone “abandons” their paying job, but working significant hours nights and weekends, taking a full week of vacation off, etc is very common. as the story goes, I think the youtube founders had about 10 people working for them for free at first.

    Put yourself in the position of the person you're recruiting: if you believe in an opportunity, the last thing you want to do is sit in a cubicle or office at your current job. You will find a way to make significant contributions while making ends meet. If someone chooses to stay committed to their existing job, they don't believe in your opportunity… it has nothing to do with cashflow, they're just being polite.

  • http://chrisdrit.posterous.com/ ChrisDrit

    Yea that's interesting, I've seen this as well… Many people posses some of the qualities but not all, I guess that's why finding the right partner is so important, pick up the pieces that you lack and vice-versa…

  • Roman Giverts

    Mark,
    I appreciate the fact that you don't ever write about politics. Certain other VCs build up a big audience based on tech, entrepreneurship posts etc, and then sucker punch you with articles about politics. It really annoys me and I consider unsubscribing each time.

    There are many political bloggers out there, I (and probably most everyone else) read these blogs to think about tech… not politics. The last thing I want to do is talk politics on a tech vc blog. It's like going to see a funny movie and finding out it's a drama once you're inside. Even if the drama is good, I would still be annoyed.

    my 2 cents…

  • http://www.vumedi.com Roman Giverts

    Mark,
    I appreciate the fact that you don't ever write about politics. Certain other VCs build up a big audience based on tech, entrepreneurship posts etc, and then sucker punch you with articles about politics. It really annoys me and I consider unsubscribing each time.

    There are many political bloggers out there, I (and probably most everyone else) read these blogs to think about tech… not politics. The last thing I want to do is talk politics on a tech vc blog. It's like going to see a funny movie and finding out it's a drama once you're inside. Even if the drama is good, I would still be annoyed.

    my 2 cents…

  • http://www.vumedi.com Roman Giverts

    What's interesting about these series of posts is the contrast of qualities. What other job do you go from flipping burgers to being an inspirational leader in the same day? That's what makes it so hard.

    So many people I see have the high level characteristics, but not the work ethic and humility to get stuff done. And others can get stuff done but can't think and act at a high enough level to grow something big.

  • Roman Giverts

    What's interesting about these series of posts is the contrast of qualities. What other job do you go from flipping burgers to being an inspirational leader in the same day? That's what makes it so hard.

    So many people I see have the high level characteristics, but not the work ethic and humility to get stuff done. And others can get stuff done but can't think and act at a high enough level to grow something big.

  • Roman Giverts

    Personally, I see it a lot in successful companies. Not everyone “abandons” their paying job, but working significant hours nights and weekends, taking a full week of vacation off, etc is very common. as the story goes, I think the youtube founders had about 10 people working for them for free at first.

    Put yourself in the position of the person you're recruiting: if you believe in an opportunity, the last thing you want to do is sit in a cubicle or office at your current job. You will find a way to make significant contributions while making ends meet. If someone chooses to stay committed to their existing job, they don't believe in your opportunity… it has nothing to do with cashflow, they're just being polite.

    In terms of how long you can continue… my cofounder worked nights and weekends for 14 months. I told him it would be 3 months when we started ;) . He didnt have the savings to quit his job, and it took us 14 months to build a product and get enough traction to raise money. long time, but that's what it's all about.

  • http://www.vumedi.com Roman Giverts

    Personally, I see it a lot in successful companies. Not everyone “abandons” their paying job, but working significant hours nights and weekends, taking a full week of vacation off, etc is very common. as the story goes, I think the youtube founders had about 10 people working for them for free at first.

    Put yourself in the position of the person you're recruiting: if you believe in an opportunity, the last thing you want to do is sit in a cubicle or office at your current job. You will find a way to make significant contributions while making ends meet. If someone chooses to stay committed to their existing job, they don't believe in your opportunity… it has nothing to do with cashflow, they're just being polite.

    In terms of how long you can continue… my cofounder worked nights and weekends for 14 months. I told him it would be 3 months when we started ;) . He didnt have the savings to quit his job, and it took us 14 months to build a product and get enough traction to raise money. long time, but that's what it's all about.

  • http://chrisdrit.posterous.com/ ChrisDrit

    Yea that's interesting, I've seen this as well… Many people posses some of the qualities but not all, I guess that's why finding the right partner is so important, pick up the pieces that you lack and vice-versa…

  • http://chrisdrit.posterous.com/ ChrisDrit

    Yea that's interesting, I've seen this as well… Many people posses some of the qualities but not all, I guess that's why finding the right partner is so important, pick up the pieces that you lack and vice-versa…

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