The hardest thing for entrepreneurs to do is nothing. These Type A personalities have a deep need to act. But great things don’t come along all that often, and picking projects carefully may be the best advice in today’s excitable technology markets.
I had the chance to spend a few hours last week with someone unusual in Silicon Valley circles: a patient executive. He is a success story who challenges a number of valley clichés. He played football at a local college, spent a few years on a professional team and returned to the valley in ‘75.
He got into commercial real estate and has done pretty well. If you work in the valley, there is a good chance you’ve sat in a building he owns or developed. He is one of those quiet guys who actually has the money everyone else pretends to have. He’s been married for 35 years and raised a family.
As we sat together in a Silicon Valley bar, it was clear he had no desire to draw attention to himself and wants to keep it that way.
About an hour in as we tried to avoid the craziness of an Irish beer joint on Saint Patrick’s Day, he started teaching me a few things. I thought I would share some:
- The hardest thing to do is do nothing. Once you’ve had a first success, the hardest thing for an entrepreneur to do is do nothing. You have this deep need to act and create, and great things don’t come along that often. So keep your powder try and avoid the 20 sure things people present to you because they think you can make them successful.
- Refine rather than revamp. This can be true despite all the calls for pivots and rethinks. Sometimes the right thing is to press ahead and just keep refining what you have versus trying something new. Most entrepreneurs have a problem with this steady-on approach, and once they sell their businesses it gets worse.
- There are cycles, embrace them. The valley has cycles, just like the rest of the business world. Figure out where you are in them and ride them. Always know when it is ‘99 or ’97 and how the cycle will impact your business plan.
- Leverage is your friend, leverage is your enemy. Using other people’s money is a tool, not a goal. Know when to leverage debt and venture money, but always know that being in control is very important to accomplishing your goals.
- We are not out of the woods on the current debt crisis. Don’t confuse the hype and spin with reality. Debt is hanging over a number of markets. Be prepared for another liquidity crisis. Don’t get greedy.
- Real relationships are rare, so when you have one protect it. You work with hundreds if not thousands of people. But the number who will stand by you and show integrity through a cycle is few. Find the ones that are real and protect them. Their success is yours, so help them. Their failure is yours, too, so protect them.
As I said, I am not going to say who he is. He has managed to stay anonymous at age 70 and wishes everyone else would as well. I didn’t see him posting to Facebook or Twitter the whole time we sat together. He was too busy doing nothing.
(Ben T. Smith, IV is a serial entrepreneur, investor, and advisor to technology and media companies. He is the co-founder of MerchantCircle.com and Spoke.com, and a former partner at A.T. Kearney. Ben is available on btsiv.com)
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