Entrepreneurship: Nature over nurture

Bambi Francisco Roizen · September 30, 2010 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/11e3

Super angel investor Mike Maples of Floodgate on entrepreneurship

While there are many lessons entrepreneurs can learn to mitigate risk in the future and become better entrepreneurs, the true outliers are products of nature vs nurture. At least, that's what one prominent super angel believes.

"I think entrepreneurs are more born than made," said Mike Maples, founder of Floodgate, a Silicon Valley super angel firm, with investments in some high-profile private companies, including Chegg, Twitter and Digg. Some entrepreneurs have this MacGyver tendency, said Mike, referring to the secret agent Angus MacGyver, who managed to overcome all obstacles, like escaping from prison or making a bomb out of a cactus plant.

Those with this tendency have the ability to "improvise their way to a good outcome," Mike explained. This is a trait that's not learned. There's entrepreneur who can just "MacGyver an outcome," he said, adding, "that can't be taught."

in this segment of "Lessons Learned," Mike talks about the innate qualities he sees in entrepreneurs. They have an ability to "will that company to existence," he said. This "will" tends to overcome feelings of inertia and bad random luck that invariably appears often in the startup process. "If you don't really love the idea and the opportunity, you'll give up at signs of trouble."

Mike also talks about mistakes often made. One mistake entrepreneurs make is to spread themselves too thin. "Great entrepreneurs focus," he said, referring to the City Slickers movie in which Jack Palance, who plays Curly, says the "The secret of life is this... one thing... you stick to that and everything don't mean sh** ... "

Problem experts

Entrepreneurs often make the mistake of believing they're learning about their customer. When they say they "listen" to customers, they're really not.

"A lot more people can articulate the product they're selling than the problem they’re solving," said Mike. "Becoming an expert in a problem is the key to unlocking the value proposition."

Mike talks about his days as an entrepreneur during his time at Motive, a broadband software company he founded in 1997. At the time, his team visited 30 prospects and asked each of them ten to 20 questions. "We wanted to become problem experts," he said. By listening to customer's problems, startups can then learn to build a product that can scale.

Finally, entrepreneurs often go to Mike and ask for his advice about their products. They'll ask, "I haven’t built anything yet, do you think this is a good idea?" This is not a good approach to get Mike to sit down and listen to you. His ususal response: "How the heck should I know? I’m not a customer. If I’m not a customer or prospect, my opinion is interesting but irrelevant... Facts are facts, they exist outside the building." Translation: Don't ask an investor, ask the customer.

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Bambi Francisco Roizen

Founder and CEO of Vator, a media and research firm for entrepreneurs and investors; Managing Director of Vator Health Fund; Co-Founder of Invent Health; Author and award-winning journalist.

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