Breaking news!

    follow me on Twitter

    Wednesday, December 08, 2010

    What makes an Entrepreneur?

    Data matters, but doesn't make money. Connecting with Customers does.

    Read complete post here.

    "I used to sit on the board of a company (for which I DID NOT invest) with a very smart and very likable CEO. This person was educated at the best US schools and had worked for a top-tier strategy consulting firm – one of the big 3. The CEO led every board meeting with vigor and the board members (sans me) were always wowed. The CEO had 60-page Powerpoint presentations analyzing every micro detail of the business. The company had less than $5 million in revenue yet we had a multi-tab spreadsheet doing activity-based costing on our customer service staff, operations and technology.

    We had every chart every invented by man (or McKinsey) showing failure rates of our product, mean-times-to-repair, detailed sales forecast charts, etc. Charts. What lovely charts! I know they would have been very useful in dissected the woes of General Motors. I was the only unimpressed board member. I was the one pointing out that we were behind on our sales targets and our “Elephant Deal” that had been promised was 6 months late.

    After a few board meetings I finally spoke up. I was a bull in a china shop. I said (out loud), “I sure wish that some of the time that went into these PowerPoint slides would have gone into meetings with the COO, CFO or CMO of [Elephant Customer].” The CEO had never met with any of them.

    With a CEO that likable, smart, educated and accomplished it made board members squirm that I was willing to call bullshit.

    I’m sure you know what happens next. We missed our sales target by more than 66% for the year but we had great slides explaining why. The next year we set the sales budget equal to the previous year’s sales budget that we had missed. We missed the next year by more than 33%. Nobody seemed shocked. The company has burned through serious cash. I complained the whole way. It was not fun. No “independent” board members seemed to care (or even comprehend the lunacy of the whole situation).

    To this day I’m sure they see the situation differently. Beautiful slides by top-tier consultants have hoodwinked large companies for years and I can see why. They are intoxicating, complex, insightful and tell a great story. But in the end they’re usually just that – a story. Sometimes a fantasy.

    I still really like this CEO and have deep respect for this person outside of the role of being a CEO. The “Peter Principle” says that “everybody rises to their level of incompetency.” Read this as some people who are great at analyzing to not make great doers and therefore do not make great entrepreneurs. I think many VCs have learned this the hard way when they step in to temporarily run companies as I have seen happen.

    The problem with the company that I described above was that there was somebody willing to fund ongoing losses and the board continued to believe that good times were just around the corner. Maybe they’ll be proved right some day. I certainly hope so. But in the UK we used to call this “promising jam tomorrow.” I was tired of jam tomorrow. I left the board. The company never JFDI."

    Mark Suster is a 2x entrepreneur who has gone to the Dark Side of VC. He joined GRP Partners in 2007 as a General Partner after selling his company to He focuses on early-stage technology companies. Read more about Mark.

    Search This Blog