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Venture Profile: Art Marks, Valhalla Partners
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Angel Mehta: Does that mean that entrepreneurs are born, not made? What are the characteristics that are presumably inherited?
Art Marks: They can be made through their other experiences - so they're not necessarily born. Ultimately, entrepreneurs have to commit to a path where they don't control the resources that are required for them to get to the goal.
Angel Mehta: Isn't that a ludicrous decision to make?
Art Marks: Sure. Entrepreneurs know it's going to take a long time and that they are going to be tested. And they're willing to endure. Not everybody has that characteristic, particularly if they have been a great manager at a large company. They can't easily transition from being a General Manager at General Electric to being an entrepreneur. In a large company, they would have access to resources to be able to get things done through 'brute force'. They would also have the finances and manpower to go after big targets. An entrepreneur doesn't start out with the resources to achieve his end-goal. They need to have a risk profile that says, 'I can endure that uncertainty… I can fail, dust myself off and keep going." I can prove myself and earn the resources.
Angel Mehta: You mentioned that those characteristics could be acquired through experience….
Art Marks: Experience, yes.
Angel Mehta: So what precisely are the experiences that one needs to have to develop entrepreneur DNA? And where would one seek them out?
Art Marks: That's a hell of a question. I don't have the answer to that yet. I would say that a company like 3M that rewards innovation, historically, that would be a better source than a GE or an IBM. If I look at an entrepreneur and see evidence that he failed at something in life and then overcame it…that's much more valuable to me than the guy who never failed. In parallel, a guy who keeps failing all the time… well that's a different kind of problem. This is a guy who doesn't know when to give up and is going to waste your resources.
Angel Mehta: So you may have failed… but you can't have a track record of failure. Is that it?
Art Marks: Yes.
Angel Mehta: Just to clarify… when you say in your literature that the appropriate goal for an entrepreneur is unobtainable for most individuals in similar situations… explain to me why, if it were unobtainable, an entrepreneur would go for it?
Art Marks: I would say the goal would be audacious - nearly unobtainable. If it was easily obtainable, a lot of people would do it and there would be no return. If everybody can do 'X" then the rewards for doing that, at least from a venture point of view, are going to be diminished. You're much more interested in the guy that's reaching for something that is hard to do.
My second meaning is you do not have control over the situation when you begin. You basically have to be willing to take the risks… to earn your way… to prove yourself worthy … any real quest is going to be hard.
Angel Mehta: You also told me once that at the conclusion of every stage of the entrepreneurial journey, there is a test, and if you fail the test, the quest is over, but 'you cannot necessarily go home'. What does that mean?
Art Marks: First of all, I want to point out that I say 'if you can't pass the test'. I don't say 'if you fail the test" - because you can fail and keep trying. However, when you can't pass a test, the quest is over. The reason I say you 'cannot necessarily go home" is because when you go on this entrepreneurial quest, it changes you. You can never go back to the way you were before. You might decide to quit, but you can't change the impact of the quest on your psyche… the way you think about the world. You just can't go back in time and be the same person.
Art Marks is one of the most visible and successful investors in the Mid-Atlantic region. Art has held senior leadership roles in operating companies, venture capital partnerships and the Mid-Atlantic region's technology and venture capital communities for over thirty years. Prior to founding Valhalla Partners, Art had eighteen years of venture capital investment experience, including seventeen years as a general partner at New Enterprise Associates (NEA). Art can be reached for interview feedback at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Angel Mehta is Managing Director at Sterling-Hoffman, a retained executive search firm focused on VP Sales, VP Marketing, and CEO searches for enterprise software companies. He can be reached for feedback at: email@example.com