I recently stumbled upon RockStartup.com. It’s basically a documentary, split up into several episodes, that covers the birth of the website PayPerPost.com by following around the CEO/Founder, Ted, and the PR person, Britt.
PayPerPost (”PPP”) is a weird concept — PPP pays bloggers to write content and sources content from Publishers, and then earns money by charging advertisers to put ads on PPP-sponsored blog sites. It’s been controversial because blogging’s rise to fame is due to its unbiased nature, and paying someone to blog, well, I guess it’s hard for them not to be biased.
But the success of PPP is another discussion. I’m more interested in the man behind PPP, Ted. Based on 10 minutes of watching RockStartup, I defnitely saw some “patterns” I’ve seen in other entrepreneurs.
When I was at Wharton as an undergrad, in my Senior year I took an Entrepreneurship course where you had to build some unique software, come up with a business plan, and then pitch it all to VC’s.
Our idea was terrible. We were going to build a system for people running political campaigns to help them get a sense of how people were planning on voting. We had a barcode-scanner-pen that scanned in a person’s survey responses, and then aggregated all the information so that a campaign director could see how people felt about a variety of issues.
When I joined the team, I was the only undergrad. We were led by a charismatic, tall, deep-voiced MBA and everyone seemed to buy into his leadership cred. Eventually, people started dropping off our team for one reason or another. I think more than anything they just didn’t believe in what we had going on. But I needed this class for some kind of requirement so dropping the class wasn’t an option for me.
So I got to work pretty closely with our head guy. He was a former VP from Morgan Stanley, a Berkeley-educated computer science graduate, and an imposing guy. He seemed intelligent, driven, and confident. I was actually pretty intimidated by him for a while.
But as we got to work together, one thing became clear to me: he had this idea that he was destined to be a multi-million dollar entrepreneur success story. And he was busting ass to make that a reality. The product itself, the concept, the company, the vision…none of that really mattered a whole lot. It was more about the success factor, the prestige of being a self-made man, a clever entrepreneur who saw the opportunity and cashed out at 35 years old for $10 million…or something like that.
I can think of at least two other times I’ve seen that ilk of entrepreneur: Startup.com, the movie. Those guys succeeded in raising a lot of money, and spent a lot of time and money doing soul-searching, but not a whole lot actually adding value for the world. The guy was a former Goldman Sachs Investment Banker and again, had the air of “I’m a smart businessman who knows how to make millions of dollars in entrepreneurship.” Their company has since folded.
And the latest example? Although I have but 10 minutes of edited video footage to base my thinking on, I give the honors to Ted of PayPerPost.com. The cheering about raising $3 million, the getting up at 4am to hand out signs at the Today Show…somehow it didn’t have an authentic ring to it. It seemed more like token, crazy things entrepreneurs are supposed to do to make their companies successful. I guess it can all be summed up by being more about the experience of entrepreneurship and hitting it big, than your passion for whatever you’re doing.
By contrast, I know of a family member who grew a wildly successful company from scratch. He raised no money; his company was financed by getting new clients. He LOVED what he did. He retired in his 40’s and always talks longingly about his work days. He’s financially set for life but is still involved in new business ventures.
I know of a local entrepreneur here in Phoenix who simply loves web design, and has made a lot of clients very happy by doing what he does best.
I think of Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, whose story is vividly recounted in a book he co-authored, and how his passion was the idea that Coffee could be a bridge to creating community in America again. It really had nothing to do with feeling like a clever entrepreneur and making millions of dollars.
I think of Bob Parsons, CEO of GoDaddy, who made $50 million and nearly spent it all on GoDaddy before making it profitable. Despite being insanely wealthy, he’s admitted he’s not motivated by money, and just loves building a great company.
Look at Mark Cuban — a billionaire who actively writes about his businesses on his own blog!
My point is that there are entrepreneurs who are out for the glory and the dollar signs, and then there are the people who really believe in what they’re doing, and how it will make a positive difference.
I think the truly successful entrepreneurs — ironically — don’t really fret too much about being successful entrepreneurs. They just focus on adding value for the world, on overcoming challenges people said couldn’t be overcome, on taking their passion and doing something amazing with it.
Hell, I love learning foreign languages so much that I would almost be happy to accept a non-paid position to direct a foreign language products company. Not that I plan on leaving my current position, and in reality I’d probably want some actual salary or compensation, but emotionally that’s how I feel.
Anyways, I guess what it comes down to is that, as the brilliant Paul Graham pointed out, people choose their careers based on three criteria: (1) Prestige, (2) Ambitiousness, and (3) Doing What You Love.
I think the best entrepreneurs have most of their eggs in (3) and the rest in (2). I think the others have most of their eggs in (1).