This is the tenth article in a continuing series that examines the state of the ecosystem necessary to successfully bring technology to market. Based on dozens of interviews with entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, angel investors, business leaders, academics, tech-transfer experts and policy makers, this series looks at what is working and what can be improved in the go-to-market ecosystem in the United States, Canada and Britain. We invite your feedback.
As we have said before, entrepreneurs must have a vision that will stretch the boundaries of what they know and challenge what they believe is attainable. They must be willing to seek the outside counsel and feedback that will reveal the weaknesses in themselves, their teams, their technology and their paths to market. It’s difficult to overcome a weakness if you haven’t recognized and acknowledged it.
We conclude our Words of Wisdom string today by looking once again at the human factor and the right stuff that individual entrepreneurs and management teams need to succeed. There is no denying that the greatness of an organization is defined by its people. But how do you ensure that you are making the right hires?
Hire good people
In his book, Making Technology Happen, Doyletech’s Denzil Doyle talks at length about proven practices and processes for getting technology to market. However, he also urges that thought be given to the people part of the equation.
Hiring people “is the mistake that virtually everyone makes (by) not taking the time to do it right,” he writes. On the other hand, “most presidents and managers make the hiring process too complex.”
In Doyle’s view, the “right hire,” in addition to obvious role-related skills and experience, has:
- A high energy level
- A high mental capacity
- An abundance of common sense
- An ability to communicate
What’s his advice to make the hiring process less painful and more streamlined? Draw up a list of the functions required for a given role. Then rate the candidate’s ability to perform each function against each of the four variables above, say, on a scale of one to 10.
“A candidate who does not rate a decent score in a very large percentage of the intersections between the job functions and the four essential ingredients is likely not the person for the job,” Doyle writes. “The same is true if scores are notably lower in one or more of the four columns even though one of them might have exceptional ratings.”
Here’s an exercise in devil’s advocacy for you: carry out this process on your existing team of company founders and executives. It might be painful, but it may reveal weaknesses that are best dealt with sooner rather than later.
How ‘round’ are you?
Andrew Fisher, executive VP at Wesley Clover, has worked with entrepreneurs of all stripes, including those who are trying to make the often-painful transition from simply developing technology to mastering the sales and marketing skills needed to commercialize it.
For him, it is a balance between basic skills, such as strong written and oral communications, and personality. He always looks for people who are well-rounded and possess those characteristics that have been collectively referred to by others, such as Daniel Goleman, as emotional intelligence. This is a measure of one’s self confidence, self-awareness and ability to navigate periods of stress and emotional turmoil, all of which has a direct bearing on one’s likelihood of achieving business success.
“You have to be a well-centred individual,” Fisher said. “If I am a highly insecure individual and I need you to stroke my ego, then that’s likely going to cause all kinds of problems downstream. I’m not saying those people don’t become successful business people … but nine times out of 10, people who are not centred in their own personality create all sorts of wasted baggage.”
This ability to communicate and present well is also important to Ronald Weissman, chair of the Software Special Industry Group at Band of Angels, when he is looking at a startup.
“In today’s climate, when companies actually try not to buy from startups, you have RISK painted on your forehead,” he said. “It’s tough to go it alone and establish credibility. A big part of my evaluation of a startup is if the management team is capable of establishing partnerships with larger companies who can achieve market penetration.”
At the coal face
It should come as no surprise that work ethic also ranked high on the list for Fisher and others.
“The harder I work, the luckier I get.” For Iain Klugman, CEO of Communitech, this marks the “let’s get it done” attitude that characterizes an entrepreneur with the right stuff. “I see a huge correlation between company’s success and how hard people work,” he said. “It’s a lot of hours for a long time, that’s the biggest determinant of success.”
Despite being a busy single mother with a full-time business, she set out to lever the insight and expertise developed over a 20-year career in strategic marketing communications into an educational resource for professional development and training. The Ingenium team, with a substantial amount of goodwill and in-kind support from friends and allies, set to work, determined to bootstrap their new venture, Results Map, without seeking a term sheet that would have diluted ownership. After six years of effort, the new venture launched last year.
“The sheer tenacity and the focus required was a major challenge since the project had to run alongside our regular work and business development,” Kealey said. “Stitching this together into something coherent with an end goal in mind was a very significant challenge.”
“Most of the development work I did on this was between 5 and 7 a.m. before I got my kids up to get ready for school; that’s obviously not everyone’s cup of tea.”
What’s your cup of tea? What kind of sacrifice and personal growth has it taken for you to get your technology to market?