Category Archives: Must watch or read

Philippe Mustar – Entrepreneurship in Action – final episode

Here is my last article on the excellent Entrepreneurship in action of which you will find the 5 previous articles with the tag #entrepreneurship-in-action. Here are some final notes:

The ingredients of success

But, those who fund this project are not doing it just for the skills and experience of the three entrepreneurs. They show other qualities that convince to follow them: their passion, their motivation, their ambition. Investors know that these qualities will allow the team to stay focused and better deal with the many uncertainties that lie ahead. To a student who asked a venture capitalist what are the three most important qualities that a project must have to be financed; he replied: the first is the team, the second is the team, the third is the team. Another joke, common in this industry, says that investors prefer to finance a good team with a bad project rather than the other way round (because a good idea carried by a team whose skills do not match those necessary to developing it is unlikely to go far; while a good team will always be able to modify, transform or change an initial idea of ​​low quality). The rest of the story shows that these statements, usually made in the tone of a joke, apply particularly well to Criteo and that those who make them, the venture capitalists, will have to believe in them and hold onto them firmly for several years. [Page 220]

Some criteria explaining success (according to one of the co-founders of Criteo):
– Have been able to focus on a single product
– Aim for excellence in all areas of the company
– Find the right cursor between managing daily problems and anticipating the future
– The ability to make difficult decisions
– Trust in technology

And finally Mustar returns to this process of innovation which looks like anything but a mechanical process:
– A long and winding process, made of many transformations
– An emerging process
– An experimental process
– A process filled with uncertainties, choices to be made, decisions to be made
– A collective process and a distributed action
– A social process

What is an entrepreneur? Are you born an entrepreneur or do you become one?

Mustar addresses in his conclusion a topic as old as startups with all the humility and caution, because it seems like we don’t really know (even if many claim they do know). Apart from the tautological definition, the entrepreneur is the one who creates (and builds) a business, it seems very difficult to find common traits and qualities specifically for entrepreneurs. Still, I am less confortable with his reminder of Peter Drucker’s claim. “Most of what you hear about entrepreneurship is all wrong. It’s not magic; it’s not mysterious; and it has nothing to do with genes. It’s a discipline and, like any discipline, it can be learned.” [Page 287]

I’m a little more comfortable with Komisar’s point of view in How Do You Teach High-Tech Entrepreneurship according to Randy Komisar.

There is no such thing as a monolithic entrepreneurial condition. Even among the very small number of first-time entrepreneurs I interviewed, there is a very diverse range of relationships with entrepreneurship. What characterizes them, beyond the great diversity of their profiles, their temperament, their way of behaving, is more a desire to do, to learn, to succeed, a great capacity for work, listening to others, ambition… but this is by no means specific to entrepreneurs. We find these same desires or aptitudes among employees, executives of large companies, philanthropic activities, athletes, artists, etc. [Page 289]

This journey with these young engineers allowed me to get rid of a conception of entrepreneurship that separates on the one hand an entrepreneur or a team, and on the other an activity of creating a new product and a company. The entrepreneur and the company are built together, in the same movement. [Page 290]

Philippe Mustar – Entrepreneurship in Action – episode 5

This new episode of Philippe Mustar’s book relates to the history of Criteo, a startup already mentioned on this blog here and there.

For once, I disagree slightly with a quote from the book (which is not from the author): “The profile of the team formed by the three creators of Criteo is a perfect example of the one described theoretically by Kathleen M. Eisenhardt (Professor of Management at Stanford University and Co-Director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program) as “the best it can be.” Kathleen Eisenhardt, based on a lot of research on the subject, defines (somewhat mechanically she herself admits) what a great team is:
– it initially consists of three, four or five people. If there are only two, it is not enough because there are so many things to do in a start-up and above all, being two does not offer a wide enough diversity of opinions, of points of view. If there are six, seven or eight, it is no longer a team, it is a group whose management and coordination take too much time.
– it is multidisciplinary and transversal, that is to say it combines skills in engineering, marketing, finance. But, these skills must be real, that is to say not based only on a diploma, but on actual experience.
– it includes people who have already worked together, this is an important asset because the creation of a start-up is made up of stressful situations, which are easier to share with people you know.
– finally, and this is more surprising, the “best teams” are those which have people of various ages, not only young people in their twenties but also others who have more experience. This often allows you to see different aspects of the same problem.
For Kathleen Eisenhardt, teams that meet these criteria are the ones that perform best. ”
[Page 199]

As much as I can agree if we talk about the management team, I believe that at the time of creation, the founders have different pedigrees. As I wrote in my own book in 2008, “A start-up is a baby created by its parents – the founders. They are responsible for its development and to help it adapt to an evolving world. It does not mean that a founder has to give up control of his start-up. Would a parent give up his child just because he has no experience in feeding and educating? Is the analogy of little value? There is also a responsibility in succeeding in the development. Experts will be used, medical doctors, teachers for the child, professionals, and consultants for the start-up. The Google founders kept such “ownership” during the company’s growth. Eric Schmidt has become CEO but he is more a partner of the two founders. Start-ups seldom develop that well and investors sometimes have to make tough decisions when they take away the “parent” power from the founders. Investors do not like to do this in general and only do it when they consider it absolutely necessary. This is an ideal world but everyone knows reality is more complex”. And I could add, two parents is probably the ideal model.

On the other hand, I fully agree with the sources of innovation: The sociology of innovation has shown that the sources of innovation, like those of the Nile, are multiple and sometimes difficult to identify. It also pointed out that ideas for new products or services are the most common things in the world, and even that they are always bad, always poorly framed and approximate at the origin. As Bruno Latour says: “All important discoveries are born ineffective: they are hopeful monsters,“ promising monsters ”. [Page 251] and the French text by Latour http://www.bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/P-92-PROTEE.pdf . [A short parenthesis about Hopeful Monsters, a term I knew only from one of my favorite novels, and I blogged about it here.]

Philippe Mustar – Entrepreneurship in Action – episode 4

Following two previous articles here and there and there again about this very interesting book, here are a few more lessons.

About selling a product

Expliseat is as rich as DNAScript in lessons especially about the description of how 3 young people with no experience in the field will find and bring together the skills to design, produce and sell. We also see one of the founders leaving the ship without the adventure stopping and finally page 186: During these years, Benjamin also learned that the only economic argument (“we make you earn money”), and more broadly those which are purely rational, are not sufficient to convince the customer:

“If you come up with a purely rational product, it’s not a good product, because the buying process isn’t one hundred percent rational. It was important for us to understand this. With the […] then the […], we said: “this is the best […] on the market”, but for the customer, the best […] is also a [product] which is beautiful, which one desires, which inspires confidence … It requires commercial work on the product to make it attractive. The end goal is that people no longer just buy a [product], they buy [our product], something that is beyond the product, they buy a brand, an industrial experience, a purchasing experience, a customer experience, an after-sales service… This is typically what you do when you buy an iPhone, you don’t buy a phone, you buy an Apple, you buy an experience, well it’s the same thing in industry and B2B ”. [Pages 194-5]

The “process of innovation”

What surprises about this story is the apparent mix of genres: the [product] is not yet certified, nor realized and entrepreneurs are already selling it. We are witnessing a real whirlwind in which the team experiments, manufactures, sells, tests, collaborates with various actors, negotiates certification, modifies the project, transforms the [product], changes alliances, partners and market, goes back, takes a detour to a research laboratory abroad, develops a new prototype… We are far from the classic model of innovation, a linear model where distinct stages follow one another: research, then experimental development, prototyping, industrialization and, last step, commercialization. In such a process, the customer or user is passive, she or he enters at the end and the only room for maneuver is to accept or refuse the innovation.

This linear process is a kind of relay race where the end of one stage marks the start of the next stage; and, within the company, each of these steps is the result of a different department: research department, design office, production department, then marketing and commercialization … This sequential vision has been widely criticized by literature, whether it is evolutionary economic theories, the sociology of innovation or the management of technology.

About the market

Expliseat seems to be coming at the right time in their [market]. Often companies with their innovation arrive too late or too early in the market they are targeting. The Greek word kairos [1] qualifies this moment, it is the time of the right moment, the instant of the opportunity. [Pages 195]

[1] The Greek god Kairos is the winged god of opportunity, to be seized when it passes. He is represented by a young man who has only a tuft of hair on his head. As he passes nearby, either you don’t see him, or you see him and do nothing, or you reach out and grab his hair, thus seizing the possibility, the opportunity.

I’ll let you explore the author’s use of the Scrabble metaphor to show you that there is no real innovation process out there, nor opportunity there, but permanent construction from next to nothing.

About decision making under uncertainty

The founders’ ability to act is found in particular in the multiple choices they are faced with, and in the variety of options available to them. For what type of aircraft can this ultralight seat be produced? What form should this take? What materials to use? Which shareholders to bring into the capital? Where to install the company? Should we do it or have it done/outsourced? Which subcontractor to work with? Which research laboratory should be mobilized to solve a specific problem? Which engineer to recruit? What modifications should be made to the structure of the seat? With which industrial partner to enter into an alliance? Which business strategy to choose? Which business model to adopt? At what price to sell the seat? How to organize the business? Etc.

Along with the diversity of actors that we have highlighted, the process I am studying is also populated with a multitude of choices. These are many options that entrepreneurs explore. Here too, they are as much technical as they are economic, organizational or social. The story of Expliseat is the story of an expedition, its actors engage in unknown territory: which options to choose, which to close, which to open or re-open? “To govern is to choose”, says the maxim of the Duke of Lévis. Many options explored in this story lead to dead ends, others that will be exploited lead to failures, and finally others lead to success – and one could say, after the fact, but only after the fact, that “it was the right choice”. [Pages 203-4]

Philippe Mustar – Entrepreneurship in Action – episode 3

Here is episode 3 of my reading Entrepreneurship in Action by Mustar after episode 1 and episode 2.

I would like to mention what I consider an amazing coincidence in comparing two pages of Mustar’s book and the Google following short video.


There Larry page gives tips including:
Tip 2: There is a benefit from being real experts. Experience pays off.
Tip 3: Have a healthy disregard for the impossible. Stretch your goals.

About tip 2: “We worked on Google for many years at Stanford before we started the company. And that was a pretty nice position to be and we understood sort of all aspects in search. We talked about the search companies for many years. We really knew a lot about what’s going on. They can do that pretty cheaply, right? It’s just your labor, right? You can invest a year or two or three years and really learn something very, very well before you start having hundreds of people working on the problem.”

About tip 3: “I went to a leadership seminar once in Michigan where I came from and they have this great slogan which is, “Have a Healthy Disregard for the Impossible.” What this means is that, you really stretch goals that you’re not sure you can achieve but are sort of reasonable. You don’t want completely outlandish goals either. In fact one thing that I didn’t quite realize when I was starting Google is that it’s often easier to have aggressive goals. Now what that means is, a lot of time people take very specific things they want to do because they think they’ll be easier to attain. What happens if you’re being more specific, smaller markets and that kind of thing, you also get less resources.”

which I compare to pages 120-21:

About expertise: “To respond to these multiple questions, the trio meets many actors: “It was also important to speak very quickly to customers and experts in the field.” […] The team conducts a competitive watch to understand the positioning of the three major producers, but also the smallest that share the remaining 20% of the market. “I did all the fairs to understand how the sector works, how prices are fixed, what are the innovations in progress”. The objective for the trio is to differentiate its offer as much as possible from that of its future competitors.”

About the impossible: “During this period, as in the years that followed, many voices tell them that what they plan to do is not possible, that if we could […] the large companies that dominate the market would have already done it, that the development of industrial equipment is long and expensive and that they are subject to a tatillon certification process that the composite materials they hope to use will never pass. Last But Not Least, how young inexperienced and totally ignorant engineers of the sector could succeed in the giants of the sector, their tens of thousands of employees and their armies of experienced engineers.”

A final message from the founders of Expliseat which I find also very interesting: Unlike the entrepreneurship manuals which advise teams of founders to divide up the functions very early on, at Expliseat, during the first year of the project, the three entrepreneurs play all the roles at the same time. “Everyone does everything”. This is the formula they liked to repeat then.

Philippe Mustar – Entrepreneurship in Action – episode 2

Entrepreneurship in Action by Philippe Mustar is a really good book, as I had hinted in my previous post.

I just finished reading the analysis about DNA Script which I found very convincing. More than 70 pages describing an adventure which is built by moving forward often blindly, and with a lot of uncertainties. You learn by doing very often. Here is the concluding page which will hopefully make you want to read the full chapter.

Through discussions with them, the creators of DNA Script never gave the feeling or expressed the fact that they took any risks. Sylvain only sees risk as an opportunity cost for the entrepreneur: “the cost of time spent working on a project that may not work when we could have spent this time on another job or another project that would have worked better”. Thomas distinguishes between two types of risk. The first is linked to the psychological perception of failure, particularly by the entrepreneur’s entourage, which still exists in France but is declining. This type of risk was not very present for him. The second is the material risk.

“Normally, if you do things right, the material risk to each individual’s assets is well protected – even if sometimes entrepreneurs do stupid things. The material risk for people like us was having to find a job. That is all”.

Which wouldn’t have been difficult for the three engineers.

Becoming an entrepreneur, always according Thomas, is not so much taking risks as “getting out of your comfort zone”, and this in at least three areas: the need to learn, the responsibilities to be assumed and the amount of work to be done.

First of all, the first-time entrepreneur will have to learn a lot of things in a wide variety of fields. “You have to want to learn, to feel that your day is completed when you say to yourself that you have really learned things.”

Then, you must face strong responsibilities.

“In large companies, executives who hold important positions remain very protected by the organization; some have cost their companies huge amounts of money without real consequences. Conversely, Sylvain, Xavier and I, if the business goes badly, we are directly responsible for the job of the employees of the company, as well as for the money of our investors. Both have trusted us. This is a big responsibility. The company is a legal person, which has an interest that may be different from the interest of the manager or that of any of the employees. We are responsible for this legal person because today, without us, it cannot be autonomous. You have to constantly ask yourself: what is the best interest for the company?”

Finally, the entrepreneur must step out of his comfort zone, especially on the amount of work he has to accomplish. “There’s a monumental amount of work, all the time, at every moment, on very different things, it’s a huge mental load. They say success is 10% talent and 90% transpiration, that’s right.”

Philippe Mustar – Entrepreneurship in Action

The newspaper Le Monde just published an article about a recent book by Philippe MustarL’entrepreunariat en action. Ou comment de jeunes ingénieurs créent des entreprises innovantes. (Entrepreneurship in Action- Or how young engineers create innovative companies.)

The beginnings are very interesting as the following extracts show: “These stories underline that the creation of an innovative company is an experimental process for which no one knows in advance nor what will be the results or the point of arrival, nor even what knowledge and skills are needed to carry out this experiment. Unlike many stories and “cases” of business creation, where these tests and trial and error are forgotten, where the finished house is presented without the scaffolding that allowed it to be built, the reader is invited here to enter into these experiences (with not only their successes but also their dead ends and failures), and into the fabrication of the technical or economic content of these innovations (contents which, as we will see, are inextricably linked).” [Page 11]

And furthermore [Page 13] “[The book] does not provide recipes or a list of recommendations, it rather seeks to make processes and mechanisms intelligible, and thereby to make them more easily mastered by those who are are preparing to start a business.”

Then on page 27, “Except that I defend the idea that finding or creating opportunities, and exploiting those opportunities are not two separate moments and are part of a single movement.” with the following footnote: “As early as 2004, Per Davidson in his work Researching Entrepreneurship (New York, Springer) criticized this separation and insisted on the interweaving of the phases of discovery and exploitation. He will also sharply criticize this notion of opportunity. Another important criticism attacks the pre-existence of opportunities that would be discovered by entrepreneurs, Sharon Alvarez and Jay Barney argue that opportunities are built by entrepreneurs and that they do not exist independently of them. For this constructivist perspective, opportunities cannot exist outside the imagination of the entrepreneur of his future world. Alvarez S. A. and Barney J. B., 2007, “Discovery and Creation: Alternative Theories of Entrepreneurial Action”, Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, 1: 11-26.”

The first part is devoted to a biotech startup seeking to produce synthetic DNA, DNA Script. I found there convincing testimonies as to the complexity of situations. For example:


“Yes, it’s a much better idea to make shovels rather than trying to dig. It is better to sell shovels than to be a gold digger because the likelihood of you finding a vein is extremely low. Whereas you are sure to sell shovels to anyone looking for a vein. Yes, let’s make a tool that will allow all gold diggers to dig faster, deeper and more easily “(Sylvain). [Page 45] Here is a tough first choice that will impact the creation of final value and whose decision is not as simple as these entrepreneurs seem to say…


“I meet a lot of entrepreneurs who only see these aspects: who is going to be the CEO, how we are going to dallocate the shares … all of this in reality is incidental, like the logo or the name of the company. What is needed above all is the concept and motivation, we have to agree on a professional life project together: is this really what we want to do? Why? What are our motivations? What is everyone’s commitment to the project? And it’s only after you see the details, the percentages, the miscellaneous stuff. It’s important to do this really well, to have a process even to do it.” [Page 47] Other critical topics, on what is essential vs. incidental because an entrepreneur cannot do everything at once.

Exciting and to be followed!

Ideas of Geniuses (Idées de génies) by Etienne Klein and Gautier Depambour

From time to time, I blog about science and mathematics. Here is a new example. I just discovered a little wonder of popular science, at the same time simple, luminous and demanding. Ideas of geniuses, (Idées de génies) subtitled “33 texts which have shaken up physics”, by Etienne Klein and Gautier Depambour.

Etienne Klein is also the producer on France Culture of the excellent Scientific Conversation. I had already referred to it in connection with a post about Alexandre Grothendieck and another with Gérard Berry.

Through short texts, the authors make us discover ideas of genius like for example that of Galileo who explains and proves why one or even two kilograms of lead will not fall faster than a kilogram of feathers.

“In free and natural fall, the smaller stone does not weigh on the larger.”
When you place a large stone on a scale, not only will it weigh more if you lay another stone on top of it, but adding a wick of tow will increase its weight by the 6 or 10 ounces that the stone will support; but if you freely leave the stone and the wick attached together from a certain height, do you believe that in the movement the wick will weigh on the stone, so that it should accelerate its movement, or do you believe that the wick will slow down the stone, supporting it in part? We feel a weight weighing on our shoulders when we want to oppose its movement; but if we were falling at the rate that that weight would naturally drop, how do you expect it to lean and weigh on us? Can’t you see that that would be the same as wanting to injure someone with a spear who is running in front of you at a speed equal to or greater than the speed you are chasing? Conclude, therefore, that in free and natural fall the smaller stone does not weigh on the larger, and therefore does not increase its weight as it does at rest.

Galilée, Discorsi e Dimostrazioni matematiche intorno a due scienze attenenti alla mecanica ed i movimenti locali, 1638.

Bright, isn’t it? It also reminds me of Einstein’s inspiration for his theory of relativity although I have yet to read the sections relating to this other genius. All the chapters I have read are of the same style … A must read!

The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick

The “Mom Test” is an intelligent book for any student of Steve Blank and his “Customer Development” model: validating hypotheses to launch a startup by exploring the existence of customers and of a market, of course. But how do you concretely approach this delicate phase when you are not a specialist?

Author Rob Fitzpatrick says he has faced this situation multiple times and gives excellent advice including how to conduct initial interviews and learn relevant information from them. This is, I believe, the main and rather rare quality of this book. An absolute must-read when you feel helpless on the subject and even more if you do not think you need advice!

This is a small 122-page book that I really recommend reading. Here are some extracts that I hope will convince you

Every question we ask carries the very real possibility of biasing the person we’re talking to and rendering the whole exercise pointless. (Page 3)

And I add a strong statement from Steve Blank: Talking to customers is hard.

The measure of usefulness of an early customer conversation is whether it gives us concrete facts about our customers’ lives and world views. (Page 12)

The Mom Test:
1. Talk about their life instead of your idea
2. Ask about specifics in the past instead of generics or opinions about the future
3. Talk less and listen more.
(Page 13)

Blank talks about “a day in the life of your customer”. You need to understand the actions and the interactions, who does, who decides, who pays.

Here is a list, according of the author, of good and bad questions:
“Do you think it’s a good idea?”
“Would you buy a product which did X?”
“How much would you pay for X?”
“What would your dream product do?”
“Why do you bother?”
“What are the implications of that?”
“Talk me through the last time that happened.”
“Talk me through your workflow.”
“What else have you tried?”
“Would you pay X for a product which did Y?”
“How are you dealing with it now?”
“Where does the money come from?”
“Who else should I talk to?”
“Is there anything else I should have asked?”

at page 15 and he lets you think about what is bad and good before giving his views.

What you should have in mind is given page 22: “They own the problem, you own the solution.” And this is so true as Henry Ford or Steve Jobs mentioned, customers do not know what they want!

So (page 49), when interviewing, “Start broad and don’t zoom in until you’ve found a strong signal, both with your whole business and with every conversation.

How to begin?

In his original book on Customer Development, 4 Steps to the Epiphany, Steve Blank solves this by recommending 3 separate meetings:
the first about the customer and their problem;
the second about your solution;
and the third to sell a product.
By splitting the meetings, you avoid the premature zoom and biasing them with your ideas. In practice, however, I’ve found it both difficult and inefficient to set them up. The time cost of a 1-hour meeting is more like 4 hours once you factor in the calendar dance, commuting, and reviewing.

If the solution isn’t a 3-meeting series, then what is it? You may have noticed a trend throughout the conversation examples we’ve seen so far: keeping it casual. (Page 56)

Rule of thumb: Learning about a customer and their problems works better as a quick and casual chat than a long, formal meeting.

Advancement

Then you need to deliver (page 62): “When you fail to push for advancement, you end up with zombie leads: potential customers (or investors) who keep taking meetings with you and saying nice things, but who never seem to cut a check.

Rule of thumb: “Customers” who keep being friendly but aren’t ever going to buy are a particularly dangerous source of mixed signals.

Ideally you should find a champion as an early customer. Page 73: “Steve Blank calls them earlyvangelists (early evangelists). In the enterprise software world, they are the people who:
• Have the problem
• Know they have the problem
• Have the budget to solve the problem
• Have already cobbled together their own makeshift solution”

Of course to ask questions, you must organize conversations. This is what chapter 6 is about…

A short extract: “The framing format I like has 5 key elements.
1. You’re an entrepreneur trying to solve horrible problem X, usher in
wonderful vision Y, or fix stagnant industry Z. Don’t mention your idea.
2. Frame expectations by mentioning what stage you’re at and, if it’s true,
that you don’t have anything to sell.
3. Show weakness and give them a chance to help by mentioning your
specific problem that you’re looking for answers on. This will also
clarify that you’re not a time waster.
4. Put them on a pedestal by showing how much they, in particular, can
help.
5. Ask for help.”

Rule of thumb: Keep having conversations until you stop hearing new stuff.

And then you will need to focus by doing customer segmentation and slicing. This is chapter 7.

Rule of thumb: Good customer segments are a who-where pair. If you don’t know where to go to find your customers, keep slicing your segment into smaller pieces until you do.

Process

Avoid creating (or being) the bottleneck. To do that, the customer and learning has to be shared with the entire founding team, promptly and faithfully. That relies on good notes plus a bit of pre- and post-meeting work.

Everyone on the team who is making big decisions (including tech decisions) needs to go to at least some of the meetings.

The tech guys don’t need to go to most of the meetings, but you’ll all learn a ton from hearing customer reactions first-hand occasionally. You’ll also be able to help each other catch and fix your conversation mistakes and biases. (Page 99)

What is the number of people that should face customers? 2 is ideal, 1 is not enough to take notes and avoid bias, more is messy.

Conclusion

I still ask dumb questions all the time. You will too. Don’t beat yourself up over it. In fact, just yesterday I screwed up a particularly important meeting by slipping into pitch mode (this was yesterday at the time of writing… hopefully not again at the time of reading). (Page 112)

with a nice final quote : “Having a process is valuable, but don’t get stuck in it. Sometimes you can just pick up the phone and hack through the knot.” (Page 113)

PS: I think the Mom Test is more convincing than Reis’ Lean Startup, you can read here about the reason of my skepticism.

PS2: thanks to Laurent and Monica for advising me to read this little gem!

The Plague Year – Leadership and Courage according to The New Yorker


I have regularly mentioned here articles by great magazine The New Yorker even if not directly related to the startup or innovation topics. The New Yorker publishes long and deep analyses which often take at least 30 minutes attention. Recently, it published a 40-page article requiring hours… it is about Covid and the USA: The Plague Year – The mistakes and the struggles behind America’s coronavirus tragedy written by Lawrence Wright, published online on December 28, 2020 and on paper in the Jan 4-11 double issue.


Picture from Tyler Comrie

The reason I decided yersterday to blog about it is a short section close to the end: Pottinger’s White House experience has made him acutely aware of what he calls “the fading art of leadership.” It’s not a failure of one party or another; it’s more of a generational decline of good judgment. “The élites think it’s all about expertise,” he said. It’s important to have experts, but they aren’t always right: they can be “hampered by their own orthodoxies, their own egos, their own narrow approach to the world.” Pottinger went on, “You need broad-minded leaders who know how to hold people accountable, who know how to delegate, who know a good chain of command, and know how to make hard judgments.”

You should try to read it, it’s really mesmerizing, but this short section reminded me of French philosopher Cynthia Fleury and her book “La fin du courage” (The end of courage). You may want for example to read To be Brave is sometimes to Endure, sometimes to Break up which I find quite close to what is written above.

Apple and its first investors : hilarious!

This morning, I was participating to a workshop about startups and one question came about the relationships with investors entrepeneurs are trying to attract and invest in their company. I told them it could be frustrating for many reasons, often because VCs never say no but decline too often to invest too. The best illustration comes from Something Ventured, a documentary movie I never stop celebrating. The Apple case is close to being hilarious. You find the extract beginning around minute 51 in the video:


and here is the text: [Narrator] In 1976, the computer was about to get personal. […] For venture capitalists, this represented the opportunity of a lifetime.

[Perkins Chuckles] We turned down Apple Computer. We didn’t – We didn’t even turn it down. We didn’t agree to meet with Jobs and Wozniak.
[Reid Dennis] Oh, that would have been a fabulous investment if we had made it, but we didn’t. We said, “Oh, no, we’re not really in that business.”

[Pitch Johnson] “How can you use a computer at home? You’re gonna put recipes on it?”

[Bill Draper] I sent my partner down to look at Apple. He came back and he said “Guy kept me waiting for an hour, and he’s very arrogant.” And, of course, that’s Steve Jobs! I said, “Well, let’s let it go.” That was a big mistake.

[Narrator] In 1976, the only people who believed in the personal computer… were the geeks and nerds who gathered at Homebrew Computer Clubs.

[Bushnell, founder & CEO of Atari] They needed an investment, and, uh, they offered me a third of Apple Computer for $50,000… and I said, “Gee, I don’t think so.” I could have owned a third of Apple Computer for $50’000. [Sighs] A big mistake. But I said, “Call Don Valentine.”

[Valentine] So we had our meeting. I went to Steve’s house. And we talked, and I was convinced it was a big market… just embryonically beginning. Steve was in his Fu Manchu look, and his question for me- “Tell me what I have to do to have you finance me.” I said, “We have to have someone in the company… who has some sense of management and marketing and channels of distribution.” He said, “Fine. Send me three people.” I sent him three candidates. One he didn’t like. One didn’t like him. And the third one was Mike Markkula. Mike Markkula worked for me at Fairchild before he went to Intel.

[Markkula] I said, “Okay.” ‘Cause that’s what I did on Mondays. I was retired. [Chuckles] I think I was 32 when I retired from Intel. But one day a week, I would help people start companies and write business plans. I did it for free, just for the interaction with bright, uh, people… So I went over and talked to the boys. [Laughs] The two of them did not make a good impression on people. They were bearded. They didn’t smell good. They dressed funny. Young, naive. But Woz had designed a really wonderful, wonderful computer. […] And I came to the conclusion that we could build a Fortune 500 company in less than five years. I said I’d put up the money that was needed.

[Narrator] Mike Markkula came out of retirement, becoming the president and C.E.O. of Apple. And the first call he made was to Arthur Rock. Arthur would have missed Apple if it weren’t for Mike Markkula.

[Rock] Jobs and Wozniak came up to see me, and they were very unappealing. Goatee, long hair [Muttering] Markkula said, “Well, before you make up your mind, there’s a computer show. You ought to come down and see what’s going on.” And he did. He thought somethin’ was happenin’. He wasn’t quite sure what. And there was this booth with everybody around it. I couldn’t even get next to it. And it was the Apple booth.
Then I got a call from Don Valentine. [Chuckles] “I want to put some money in that company” I said, “Okay, you gotta come on the board then.”
You know in the venture capital business, if you look at 200 deals, and you, you might do 10 of’em, and you will think they’re all great, and if one of’em is great, then you’re in the hall of fame.

Just in case, a little more about something ventured from my blog in 2012: https://www.startup-book.com/2012/02/08/something-ventured-a-great-movie/.

Finally, let me remind you of other “missed deals” in another recent post: The amazing challenge of finding great startups.