Wednesday, January 26, 2011

IEEE Entrepreneurs talk

I was fortunate enough to be invited to present at the IEEE Forum recently at National Semiconductor in Santa Clara. What’s great about these presentations is that you learn so much from the questions entrepreneurs ask, and there is always a new perspective and ideas to share. Personally, I don’t like success talks, they are always too glib, and too often accompanied by super-sized ego. I prefer to talk about failure and learning, and if possible how the failure was recovered and turned into a modicum of success, maybe God forbid even making a little money along the way ;-)

I really enjoy giving my life by misadventure talk, which basically explains how one can stumble into success despite making a bunch of wrong decisions – if you think about just how many decisions a CEO makes in a day, it's not surprising that many of them turn out to be wrong. What's great about startups is that you can change your mind, and second guess decisions and quickly adapt to correct mistakes. When Mark Hurd decided to cut and consolidate design centers in HP, it took a year to formulate a plan, another year to execute, and believe it or not, there wasn’t much of a chance to change his mind along the way, and even if there was, it would have taken another two years to undo - some more recent things can't be undone and more's the pity ...

As entrepreneurs, we go down a lot of rabbit holes (and not a few ratholes as well) in our search for the right products, solutions, businesses, and opportunities. Many of the rabbit holes are dead ends, or lead to the madhatter’s tea party, rather than the magical growth elixir for which we originated the quest – those failed quests are what temper us for eventual success. I have sat through so many presentations by successful entrepreneurs who did everything right, were geniuses, and had market vision so profound that everything worked out exactly as they planned. I read Alice in Wonderland as a kid, so little need to hear more fairy tales now. Engineers are not afraid of failure, nor do they expect to have clairvoyance enough to see every mishap and engineer it out before it becomes a problem – they twist and turn and always have a backup plan because they know failure is an inevitable part of pushing the envelope.

The other epiphany I had while preparing the talk, is drawing on my Aussie entrepreneur’s talk, I realized if I replaced the words “Australian Entrepreneur” with “Laser Jock” then the talk worked for both groups. It's amazing the similarities with the little Aussie battler entrepreneur, and the US laser engineer. We tend to think with solution or technology looking for a problem, we worry about saving money to success, we don’t understand marketing, and we don’t get just how much harder it is to market and sell a product vs design and build it. On the positive side, the similarities are even ore striking. We never give up, always find a way around any problem, are very straightforward in our dealings (and this is not the case with many other types of entrepreneurs), know how to deliver, can create a lot with a little, and are fueled with the passion of belief in what we are doing that transcends all obstacles.