Dec 012014

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Dr. Earl R. Smith II

As a well established coach with a reputation for getting results, I get approached by all sorts of potential clients. Most of the challenges that the engagements focus on deal with the personal limitations of my client. It’s rare that we focus on the technology underlying an entrepreneurs core idea. That may sound a bit strange to some of you but an example might help you understand what I am getting at.

A ‘serial entrepreneur’ approached me several months back. I use the description guardedly. He was indeed a serial entrepreneur but none of his business ventures had gone anywhere. In two cases he had received angel funding. In both of those cases the money was spent without generating significant revenues. Both companies were eventually closed. He came to me to try to figure out what he was doing wrong.

Nothing is New

When I asked him to describe his past attempts at building a business, several descriptive terms kept showing up. ‘New idea’, ‘never been done before’, ‘game changing’, ‘disruptive’ and ‘the next Google’ are some examples. But the ideas behind his companies were not remotely in those categories. In fact, when I drilled down into his knowledge of the competitive landscape or the evolution of the business space, I found next to no knowledge of either. His justification for the use of those dog eared terms was that he had never thought of it before.

The result was that, when he launched a company, the team found themselves pushing an outdated or poorly focused value proposition. The lack of sufficient vetting, testing and refinement limited the potential from the very beginning. One of his tendencies was to have conversations with himself about an idea for a new business. The lack of critical review allowed him to proceed with untested ideas. A mild paranoia drove the process. He was afraid that, should he discuss his ideas with someone else, they would steal them. But the fact was that his ideas were not unique nor did they truly merit the adjectives that he routinely attached to them.

After several difficult conversations, he finally came to realize that his tendency to accept his own initial judgments uncritically was one of the major mistakes he was making.

Its the Execution Stupid

As second problem that we surfaced was his tendency to see himself as an ‘idea man’. In a recent article, a very successful venture capitalist put it this way. “As a venture capitalist, I’m constantly looking for great entrepreneurs who have amazing ideas. But I don’t value the ideas. I value the entrepreneurs’ execution of the ideas.” That distinction is, in my experience, the most effective way to separate the real entrepreneurs from the entrepreneurial wannabees. Most investors that I deal with use the term ‘idea man’ derisively. successful entrepreneurs execute successfully and with a vengeance.

My client’s tendency was to ‘develop his idea’ and then find a team to execute it. The result was that he hired a bunch of mercenaries each time who were more interested in the salaries and equity received than in building the business. When we took apart each of his failures, the pattern was common and clear. An initial flush of enthusiasm was followed by an attenuating engagement in the business. The teams went through the motions. Bankruptcy quickly followed.

Over the years he had developed a reputation for not executing. His brand was established with the local investment community.

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