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Are Sales Executives who have previous experience at large software companies (eg. Oracle, SAP, BEA, Siebel) better at selling than Sales Executives who have spent their entire careers at startups?



The New Entrepreneur

By Bill Reichert, Managing Director, Garage Technology Ventures

Silicon Valley did not invent the entrepreneur, but it has certainly shaped the stereotype over the years. From Bob Noyce and the Fairchildren with their Cold War pocket protectors and engineer buzz cuts, to Jobs and Wozniak shaggy and jean-clad, dropping out and changing the world from their garage, to Page and Brin parlaying a Ph.D. project into billions. Famous entrepreneurs throughout high tech are elaborations and variations on the stereotype -- Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Michael Dell -- and have created for us the model of the bold, brash, aggressive, passionate and wildly successful entrepreneur.

And so as the tech world emerges from its long, painful drought, investors hearken back to these standards of entrepreneurship. Gone are the "tourists," as one venture partner disparaged the dot-com generation. Back are the "old fashioned entrepreneurs," as another venture partner referred to them -- the gritty company-builders who want to create something of lasting value, not just make a quick buck. As my partner Guy Kawasaki puts it, the post-drought generation of risk-averse investors are now more interested in "serial" entrepreneurs who have been there and done that, and less interested in "cereal" entrepreneurs who are still eating Cap'n Crunch for breakfast.

To be sure, the entrepreneurs starting companies today are not like the ones we saw, and now ridicule, in the late '90s. But they are also not like the ones we saw in the '80s and early '90s. We are not going back to an earlier breed of entrepreneur. If you are an investor looking for the kind of entrepreneur who built companies in the "good old days," you are making a mistake. The innovators who are creating companies today represent a new breed of entrepreneur, a species that can trace its lineage back through each of the species that went before, but which is very different nonetheless.

If you examine the DNA of the New Entrepreneur, you will see many traits that characterize the earlier versions -- the desire to do something different, the boldness to follow a different path, and the persistence to follow through in spite of extraordinary obstacles. And you will also see some new traits: The New Entrepreneurs are more battle-scarred, less innocent, more realistic, less delusional, more bootstrap-oriented, less dependent on traditional venture capital, more operational, and less IPO focused. They are less naive and have more business discipline and savvy. This business savvy comes not from getting an MBA, but rather from living through the last 10 years and trying (and usually failing, but sometimes succeeding) to launch new businesses during the dramatic rollercoaster we experienced. The entrepreneurs we see today are, frankly, more capable than they were in the '80s and '90s -- and they have to be.

The New Entrepreneur reflects the new requirements for success in the new environment in which companies are being created and grown. First of all, there is no such thing as a lone Entrepreneur in a successful high tech startup. Although individuals become the icons for companies and entrepreneurship, the real story is that every successful company is truly built by a team. This has always been true -- Packard had his Hewlett, Gates had his Allen, Jobs had his Wozniak, Yang had his Filo. But today, it is even more true, and more necessary. The entrepreneurial team has expanded along with the core competencies required to launch a company. Just as designing an advanced circuit or developing commercial software has become more complex over the past 20 years, so has starting a high tech company become more complex. In today's environment, it's not enough to have a core technology and a target customer. You have to have the engineering management talent, the product marketing talent, the business development talent, and increasingly the global talent. Hardly a team comes through our doors these days that does not already have a development activity in place overseas -- in Israel, China, India, or even in Bulgaria. And at the other end, they have initial customer development underway internationally, not just in the U.S.


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