Home | About | Recent Issue | Archives | Events | Jobs | Subscribe | ContactBookmark The Sterling Report


Will the enterprise market spend significant IT budget on Windows Vista in 2007?



The Perfect Software Entrepreneur

By Michael Tanner, Managing Director, The Chasm Group, LLC

Recently I visited a conference in San Jose that targeted entrepreneurs in the technology industry. You might think that after all the torrents in the public markets and the high-tech meltdown during the past couple of years, such a conference would be pretty lackluster. With rumors of Prozac sales in Silicon Valley skyrocketing, you might even think that the place would be downright depressed. But in fact, at this conference there were over 2000 entrepreneurs of all sorts, a flurry of name-brand executives, top-tier VCs and analysts at the podium and all types of deal-making around the conference center. The aura around the San Jose convention center this particular morning was down-right jubilant. It was as if through some freak of quantum physics I had been transported back in time to 1999. And, I did not want anyone to beam me up.

All of this unabashed optimism, and 2000+ entrepreneurs got me thinking about the most successful entrepreneurs I’ve known and worked with. I often hear the mantra in larger organizations to “become more entrepreneurial.” So I started reflecting on the truly excellent entrepreneurial executives that I’ve met in my life. It started when I was a child observing my own fathers associates, progressed through two startups myself, 22 years in technology with seven years as a consultant working with hundreds of executives. For some, success created vast wealth. Many are multi-millionaires and a few are even billion-airs. Then again, some have lost it all through bankruptcy, got it back, and then lost it again. Some grew their companies into well-known publicly and privately-held firms while some are now intra-preneurs just working to reinvent the corporations they work for. I’ve been privileged to meet so many of this particular genre of person that I’ve compiled a list of what I think makes a good entrepreneur, and what makes a really great one. Few if any have all of these traits. However, each one comes from a “best in class,” successful entrepreneurial leader that I have known. Here’s my list:

1. Good entrepreneurs are optimists. In fact, some of their more pragmatic employees might even say there is a “reality-distortion zone” that floats in their general vicinity. When others worry about “what-if,” most entrepreneurs worry about “how-to.” Their mantra is like the motto of the Marine Corp Seebees – “The difficult we do immediately. The impossible takes just a bit longer.” But the truly great entrepreneurs are also realists. They know that unabashed optimism, left un-tempered by realism just isn’t sustainable. They set personal and corporate goals that are aggressive, almost over the top, but doable.

2. Good entrepreneurs are incredibly driven, ambitious people. Some are driven because of experiences they’ve had in their lives or things they’ve seen. Others just seem anatomically driven by an innate sense of hyper-competitiveness. In general, the best entrepreneurs I’ve met just can not stand the idea of losing. But believe it or not, even in today’s 24 x 7 economy, the truly great ones also maintain a sense of balance in their lives. They may often work insane hours, but somehow they manage to make time for their families, show-up at important events and maintain contact with “regular folks.” They are coaches, board members of charities, heads of foundations or just regular bridge-players.

3. Good entrepreneurs are visionaries. You can pretty much call central casting in Silicon Valley to fill this trait. Entrepreneurs see what the future can be and they create its vision in a compelling way for their stakeholders. They may be introverts or extroverts, but in their own way they sell the vision like nobody else. What’s even more interesting to me is how the greatest entrepreneurs I’ve known are also quietly pragmatic at the same time. They have the knack to create enthusiasm for the vision, but they seem to be able to switch personality types to tactically manage the company against the myriad of small steps required to achieve it. They don’t mistake their own mental expectation of dramatic growth, broad market acceptance and changing the world for what has to be done right now to get things rolling.

4. The best entrepreneurs I know are good strategic thinkers. They do not delegate but lead that activity for their businesses. Because change is constant, they constantly use day-to-day information to evaluate the success of their strategy. They are focused – on specific goals related to market penetration, earnings, and key-accounts. Moreover, they stick with their focus and are good at knowing when something is defocusing. The truly great ones also know that strategies are not sacred but directional, and that the scarce competency is creating a team that can manage change. A truly great entrepreneur does not shift strategies lightly, but will shift the entire company direction and focus when the either the market or an unforeseen pathway demands it.

5. It’s passé to say that leadership is lonely. But good entrepreneurs don’t go it completely alone. They create a network of other executives they can trust, and actively collaborate with them. They work closely with their boards. While many of their directors may be thrust upon them as a result of their financial partners, they do everything possible to create strong, balanced boards, and they take the time to lead upwards as well as downwards within their organizations. They seek out directors who can be mentors. The truly great entrepreneurs are such exceptional communicators to their boards that there are rarely surprises in board meetings. One of the secrets of their communication is that they find ways to leverage the active participation of their directors in the business on a regular basis.


  Home | About | Recent Issue | Archives | Events | Jobs | Subscribe | Contact | Terms of Agreement
© 2006 The Sterling Report. All rights reserved.