Dec 22, 2010
Wouldn’t it be nice to hear a succinct and clear answer to the question of what makes a great entrepreneur? Then go no further than Brad Feld, who’ll tell you: “A complete and total obsession with the product.” In his uniform of patterned shirts, long hair and thick dark rimmed glasses, he recently stopped by the MIT Entrepreneurship Center and shared his view on entrepreneurship and venture capital in a no-holds-barred conversation. Here are his key thoughts.
Team versus Idea
In the last week I’ve heard a lot of different debates and ideas about whether VC investing is more about the idea or the entrepreneur and the team. Brad summarized his view as follows:
“Basically it is really all about the team, but the idea is the first filter.”
It was also interesting (and refreshing) to hear that Foundry’s investment decisions are sometimes as qualitative as “it didn’t light me up.” Disheartening, right? But also probably a useful learning for entrepreneurs in the fund raising process.
Land the Plane or Grab the Parachute?
Speaking about management of crisis and failure, Brad gave an example of the thought process he went through with the break-up of Mobius Partners and the eventual founding of Foundry Group. The metaphor he used was:
“You’re the pilot of the plane, and the passengers are in the back, and the wings are falling off and the engine is on fire. Do you want to be the guy that grabs the parachute and jumps out to save yourself, or do you want to try to land that plane and get the passengers down safely?”
Landing the plane and saving the passengers would be pretty admirable, and it’s a choice that every entrepreneur and venture investor needs to make on their own. But Brad also cautioned that landing the plane wouldn’t always be the right decision. For an entrepreneur in a failing venture, recognizing your opportunity cost of staying versus shutting off the lights is a learning that is just as important to understand. I can only imagine how difficult it is as an entrepreneur to be able to tell the difference.
We talked a fair bit about Brad’s career ups and downs. When asked about the process of picking a partner, Brad reinforced the point that all successful partnerships basically are people you already know now, or are only one degree of separation away.
Motivation to Become an Entrepreneur
When asked about when to be an entrepreneur, Brad offered these parting thoughts:
“If you want to be an entrepreneur because you are fascinated by the idea of being an entrepreneur, but you don’t have an idea or a passion, it’s not going to work. And if that is the case, go get a job and immerse yourself in an industry or a field until you find something. When you have the passion or find the idea, that’s when it is time to be an entrepreneur, but don’t be afraid to drop everything and jump in.”