Even great entrepreneurs need help, and the willingness to keep at it
By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2016, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
When Johnny Carson hosted “The Tonight Show,” he had a running gag called Carnac the Magnificent. Carson played a mystic in a feathered turban and cape who could divine the answer to the question contained in a sealed envelope.
The segment (based on puns and wordplay) drew plenty of audience participation and lots of laughs as Carson held the sealed envelope up to his forehead, closed his eyes and gave the answer to a question he hadn’t seen.
I was thinking about Carnac recently during a business plan presentation by a passionate and very enthusiastic entrepreneur.
This particular entrepreneur had a ready answer to everything, even before the potential investors in the room had a chance to ask their questions.
And that brings me to the capstone of my series of columns on beliefs and behaviors that can and do lead startups and entrepreneurs to failure. The Achilles heel of entrepreneurship is thinking you know all the answers.
Everyone agrees that it takes phenomenal confidence and courage to start any business from scratch. But when confidence and courage become certitude and cockiness, it leads to disaster.
As most of us in the investment industry can tell you, we see too many entrepreneurs who believe that they have figured everything out.
They’ve read a book, taken a class, or even completed a college degree in entrepreneurship from a great business school.
Or maybe they are a terrific engineer with patents, a physician with a national reputation, or a scientist who has been awarded millions of dollars in federal grants.
Not only are they sure of their own knowledge, they reinforce their belief by surrounding themselves more with “yes” people.
They seek applause instead of people who question, poke at assumptions, challenge value propositions, or demand proof that there’s a market with real customers who will pay for the entrepreneur’s great new product or idea.
Investors look for entrepreneurs who are willing to say, “I have the answer, but here are the things I’m going to do to make sure — the experts I’m scheduled to call, the market survey that goes out next week, or the customer beta that’s underway.
For every know-it-all entrepreneur I’ve met, I’ve also worked with the opposite, entrepreneurs who want to accelerate their startups by learning from others’ experience and mistakes — entrepreneurs who leverage i2E’s venture advisory services to gain access to industry and technology experts who provide thousands of dollars of pro bono consulting because they want to help a scrappy entrepreneur succeed.
You don’t have to be a Carnac to know what’s inside that envelope — it’s a recipe for success.
Did You Know?
According to a 2014 survey, 70 percent of small businesses that receive mentoring survive more than five years — double the survival rate of nonmentored businesses.
Read the full story at The Oklahoman. (Requires subscription)
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and is an integral part of Oklahoma’s Innovation Model. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.