What Makes an Entrepreneur? Perspiration (6/11)

Posted on Dec 21, 2009 | 107 comments


This 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 SmartsAbility to PivotResiliency and Inspiration.

Lucas Daily made the comment:

I’m a little disappointed. I agree with every part of the article, but I was hoping for some discussion about inspiration in the idealism/activism sense, and less the charisma sense.

When looking for great entrepreneurs for me it’s not sufficient to find a large dose of one or two attributes.  As I’ve said previously, tenacity without flexibility in approach (pivot) doesn’t produce great results.  Neither does an inspirational leader who doesn’t get things done.  We all know the type: they’re great on stage at conference but they spend all their time on the circuit.  They’re great in front of our largest customers but you try to keep them away from your staff so they don’t get things off course by throwing in recommendations and then not following through on delivery.  A great leader requires both Inspiration and Perspiration.

If you haven’t seen Invictus yet (here’s the trailer) you should. It chronicles some of the first year in office of Nelson Mandela.  He worked so hard that he passed out from exhaustion.  His secret service bodyguards complained that they didn’t have enough breaks.  He was tireless in advocating his positions.

6. Perspiration – The most poignant quote for this attribute comes from Thomas Edison, “Genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration.”  Well for entrepreneurs it’s probably a healthy dose of both.  I know you think a VC would take for granted that all entrepreneurs work hard, but you can tell the difference between those that see this as merely a slightly longer version of their last big job and those that are maniacal about what they’re doing.  My favorite example is Jason Nazar, the CEO of DocStoc.  There’s no ‘off button’ on this guy.  He’s always open for business.  If I’m up super late trying to crank out work I often get IM messages from Jason at 1am.  He attends many social events in the LA scene, but he seems to always go back to the office afterward.

There was a recent TechCrunch UK article  by an anonymous VC (yes, I think posting anonymously is chicken shite) that talked about the work ethic of European tech companies versus those Silicon Valley.  I retweeted this article and get some people in Europe telling me it was unfair.  It’s not.  The reality is that many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs / companies are obsessive and maniacal about their businesses in the way that many others around the world are not.  It’s not just Europe.  We get the same criticism in Los Angeles.

But that  doesn’t have to be you.  If you want a safe job or a balanced job don’t be an entrepreneur.  I recently posted some startup advice about the need for entrepreneurs to have a bias toward action or JFDI (a play on the Nike slogan).  Well the second sign I had on the wall of my first startup was SITE.  Ask anybody who worked with me.  It stood for “Sleep is the Enemy.”  I honestly believe that in this hyper-connected global economy where technology has leveled the playing field it is unfortunately what it takes to be number 1.  And the other harsh fact is that in the tech world it seems that the largest company gets the most outsized returns.

For every person who comes into my office with a good idea I respond, “Don’t worry about your failure, worry about your success.  If you fail, you move on.  But if your good idea pops big time then trust me there will be three PhDs from Stanford sharing a cheap apartment in San Jose working around the clock to beat you.  They’ll be eating Ramen (OK, I usually say Taco Bell, but that’s just me …) every night and saving their pennies to pour into the company.”  You’ll get over your failed company.  You’ll never get over coming up with a great idea, getting initial traction and watching someone else get all the glory (and financial returns).

It may be unfair, but it’s the reality of capitalism.  It’s the dynamic that drives innovation.  In the future they won’t only be in San Jose but also in Shanghai, Seoul and Bangalore.  If you’re not prepared to be “all in” then you’re not prepared to build a huge company.  You think Marc Benioff built Salesforce.com into a multi-billion company by having a good idea?  Sure, he’s a phenomenal speaker, but I can tell you from having been on the inside that even now this guy never shuts off.  He’s driven.  He creates the success at Salesforce.com.  He’s a billionaire and he still works harder than many startups.  Are you willing to go that hard for that long?

  • Astor Place

    Working hard and utilize time well are two different things. People are more attracted to personality than work ethics, efficiency and so forth. I have found more often than not, that its not necessarily hard work that brings results. What I see bringing results are the social bugs who enjoy to be in the limelight and gather maximum attention to themselves. These people may know little about managing their time well, or may not even have great business sense or get anything done in time and spend 8 hours on somehing that only needs to take 1, but they often manage to get success because of their ability to network and create contacts from everything.

  • Astor Place

    Working hard and utilize time well are two different things. People are more attracted to personality than work ethics, efficiency and so forth. I have found more often than not, that its not necessarily hard work that brings results. What I see bringing results are the social bugs who enjoy to be in the limelight and gather maximum attention to themselves. These people may know little about managing their time well, or may not even have great business sense or get anything done in time and spend 8 hours on somehing that only needs to take 1, but they often manage to get success because of their ability to network and create contacts from everything.

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

    Thanks for the quote! When I checked your site from my phone while my date was in the bathroom my exclamation earned some strange looks from the other restaurant patrons.

    Great post, comments and anecdotes. Some brief additions to the conversation.

    When starting a new project there is a tipping point at which spending more time actually becomes easier. For me somewhere around the 60 hours per week mark a switch is flipped and I realize “This is what I do.” After that realization my default thoughts and activities becomes the project. Life simplifies because the answer to any opportunity for distraction becomes No. Finding and crossing that tipping point (or maybe breaking-point would be more apt) is essential. Live-work balance becomes living through work.

    Be a Force of Nature. No one can beat a force of nature.

    Channel the Manhattan Project. It’s easier when you’re building something with “nuclear” impact, but if you don’t see your duty in such biblical terms no one else will.

    I am very fortunate to have a background as a design architect. The studio environment in bachelors and masters programs forces students into a work-based lifestyle that translates directly into professional design teams. The team dynamic and lifestyle seems almost unequally mirrored in web startups. There just aren’t many fields where 80-hour-a-week team-based design is taught, though it is essential in the real world. Our educational system may be falling short in teaching what is becoming an essential lifestyle skill.

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

    Thanks for the quote! When I checked your site from my phone while my date was in the bathroom my exclamation earned some strange looks from the other restaurant patrons.

    Great post, comments and anecdotes. Some brief additions to the conversation.

    When starting a new project there is a tipping point at which spending more time actually becomes easier. For me somewhere around the 60 hours per week mark a switch is flipped and I realize “This is what I do.” After that realization my default thoughts and activities becomes the project. Life simplifies because the answer to any opportunity for distraction becomes No. Finding and crossing that tipping point (or maybe breaking-point would be more apt) is essential. Live-work balance becomes living through work.

    Be a Force of Nature. No one can beat a force of nature.

    Channel the Manhattan Project. It’s easier when you’re building something with “nuclear” impact, but if you don’t see your duty in such biblical terms no one else will.

    I am very fortunate to have a background as a design architect. The studio environment in bachelors and masters programs forces students into a work-based lifestyle that translates directly into professional design teams. The team dynamic and lifestyle seems almost unequally mirrored in web startups. There just aren’t many fields where 80-hour-a-week team-based design is taught, though it is essential in the real world. Our educational system may be falling short in teaching what is becoming an essential lifestyle skill.

  • http://www.dantiernan.com/blog/ dantinpa

    Thanks so much for the Anvil Tip. What a great film. I passed on the recommendation to others that loved it as well. Cheers.

  • http://www.dantiernan.com/blog/ dantinpa

    Thanks so much for the Anvil Tip. What a great film. I passed on the recommendation to others that loved it as well. Cheers.

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  • Franco Arda

    fantastic article Mark !!!
    thank you for sharing your wisdom with us (and thanks to VentureHacks)

  • Franco Arda

    fantastic article Mark !!!
    thank you for sharing your wisdom with us (and thanks to VentureHacks)

  • Franco Arda

    fantastic article Mark !!!
    thank you for sharing your wisdom with us (and thanks to VentureHacks)

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