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It’s All About the People

March 15, 2009


I am a little under the weather today, so instead of running around to hockey rinks and basketball courts and soccer fields, I plopped down and read the Sunday papers. And as it turns out I found a couple pieces in the Sunday Times that I think do a good job articulating some very basic, but really critical, elements of success.

The first was an article entitled “The Secrets of the Talent Scouts,” in which a handful of talent scouts were interviewed about how they do what they do and how the current environment is affecting them. Not surprisingly, two of the “scouts” were early stage investors, Mike Mortiz and angel investor Ram Sriram. When people ask me what I think makes a great VC, my answer is always the same: great people judgment. And, when people ask me my own favorite part of the job, I also always have the same answer: that I am always on a quest to find great people, whether it be an entrepreneur to back, an executive to help run a portfolio company, or an industry player who would be valuable to have as a friend of the firm.

And there is something about great entrepreneurs, in particular, that makes the early stage venture business a good place to be in a harsh recession. As Moritz puts it in this article,

[T]he best entrepreneurs have this incredible need to do what they’re doing. A subject has entirely engrossed them. They have an extraordinary drive to flourish in it. They can’t think of anything else they want to do.

And, the corollary to this statement is that people who have an incredible drive and need to do what they are doing, whether it be entrepreneurs, artists, filmmakers, whomever, is that they do what they are doing regardless of the economic climate.

The second piece was an interview with Greg Brenneman, a former colleague of mine at Bain & Company who went on to be run Continental Airlines, PwC Consulting, Burger King and Quiznos, and now is Chairman of a turnaround private equity group. Brenneman explains the two key things he looks for when evaluating a CEO: first, whether the CEO can succinctly articulate the 2 or 3 things that determine the business’s success; and second, whether he’d want to be stuck on  a transatlantic flight sitting next to the CEO. Good rules to live by.

One Comment

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  1. March 23, 2009

    Best of all this post was succinct enough that I actually had time to read it, as a busy headless chicken obsessed and thoroughly engrossed start-up CEO 😉

    The wonderful thing is, you can turn this around and its equally valid when you’re scouting for investors:

    “First, can your potential investor [and presumably future board-member!] succinctly articulate the 2 or 3 things which he can bring to add value in knowledge and experience to you and your business; and second, whether you’d want to be stuck on a transatlantic flight sitting next to that investor.”

    Good rules to live by indeed.

    Entrepreneurs can often focus too heavily on purely finding the money and not enough on the people they are taking the money from. Money can be hard to find, so this is understandable, but to be avoided. A good investor is worth his weight 2 to 5 times over, just as an exceptional core team member can make up for 3 average team members in a startup.

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