Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Going Native--Entrepreneur Notes

Every now and then, a small jolt may bring us to some awareness of an outside perspective on one's own small, limited community or profession. In the tarantella danced by entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, one catches glimpses of such a perspective in a term, that if not generalized in that industry, likely conveys some common sentiment therein. The situation involved a VC partner sitting on a board of a company that lost an impressive amount of money in an improbably short period of time. In vain, the other partners tried to get Jones to rein in the situation that had got out of hand and give them an objective account of what was going on. To their surprise, Jones repeated the party line of the company's managers, optimistic that recent unpleasant circumstances were nearly a a temporary glitch along the way to the company's inevitable and imminent prosperity. Jones had "gone native."

Lacking any particular skypish allure--no profits, company operates out of a secretive location in Estonia, the founders (also founders of Kazaa) cannot set foot in the US because they will be served with a subpoena=irresistible attraction, and having once lost our own money in a negative experience we vowed never to repeat, I was sympathetic. I could not imagine nonchalantly losing other people's money. We're in boring old infrastructure software. It may be the end of middleware as we know it, but we feel fine. Then, my bemusement took a reflective, tangential turn. How might one know what circumstances would cause a person to "go native" without spending some more-than-touristy time in the jungle? What skills might one need to survive that jungle? What does building a company without money and patronage have in common with a sojourn in the jungle?

The first negative has some advantages. Comparatively, the "native" has no money or professional standing to lose. This may enable some clarity of vision and foster the ability to take risks. Should the would-be entrepreneur have a strong belief in themselves and strong convictions about what they are doing? It undoubtedly helps. It is no surprise that the classic gentleman, at least in a sort of English, Jane Austen, 18th century perspective, was not expected to be involved in "trade." The business of building a business has the quality of putting one into contact with various people and experiences outside the normal pale. Some prove to be an inspiration, people it is a pleasure to know, experiences one is fortunate to have; some people and experiences leave no lasting impression; and there's the non-negligible portion you learn to survive, recognize and avoid, in a nowhere land aglow with the slow-burning after-haze of paranoia, beyond the timid lying morality of those who would cast stones.

I would not call being an entrepreneur a glamorous career. There are perhaps two types of entrepreneurs--those who love the challenge of and being involved with every aspect of building a company and then, there are those for whom building a company is the only way to do the kind of work they truly enjoy. The latter commit themselves to building the representation of a vision because that's what they have to do. Then, maybe after a while, they get better at that than everything else. Maybe it doesn't exist.

And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind...
Shakespeare, The Tempest

And then again, maybe it's like the Cheshire Cat, who disappears and leaves behind his grin.

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