The most fabulous part of my work life over the last decade has been to observe at close quarters the craziness, the inspirations, the quirks, and the discipline of entrepreneurs and serial entrepreneurs. The main thing that separates a first-time entrepreneur from a serial entrepreneur is that the latter shows a more profound and pragmatic understanding of risk and leverage.
But I wrote that in the last post already. This post is about something else. About how serial entrepreneurs continue to create new businesses, well, serially. Here are some of the things I have observed (for confidentiality reasons, I have to write about my clients in abstract terms but those are stories that I am excited to be part of, so share them I must!)
I am sure you have stories to tell too. Please do share them in the comments.
Core strength über alles
Serial entrepreneurs, especially the successful ones, know their core strengths and rarely stray far from them. This sounds simple enough but the difficulty of such focus is only revealed when one stops to count the dead bodies that litter the field called entrepreneurship.
Core strength enhanced opens new markets
Serial entrepreneurs are lucky. And their luck is not by chance, but made by their attitude, behaviour and choices.
Core strength + new knowledge –> new market
One of my serial entrepreneurs clients is an animal health specialist. That is the area in which he founded his first venture 25 years ago. That is the area in which his current venture’s main revenue streams lie. But as he got familiar with a different kind of animal from the kind he knew well before – moving from vertebrate quadripeds to invertebrate arthropods – he learnt about a certain manufacturing process and new materials.
This new knowledge set him on the path to invent a product for human health. It has opened a new market for his venture. One could call it serendipity, one could call it luck. I think it is the fruit of positive curiosity, the desire to understand things well and the ability to think laterally about possibilities.
Core strength + removal of a constraint –> new market
Another of my serial entrepreneurs clients emerged from his last exit, in pharmaceutical manufacturing, with his hands tied by a tight non-compete. He spent the next few years making new contacts and expanding his horizons. And plotting his next venture. Now his non-compete has expired and he has in the interim developed a business line in biologics. Contract biologics manufacturing is in demand but also faces a shortage in certified facilities. His new venture is already serving large orders and he is looking to expand them further.
The constraints of the non-compete gave him time to absorb new developments and be creative with his core strength in a way that was relevant to emerging market trends.
Core strength + emergent opportunity –> new market
Dharmesh Shah‘s new venture, Hubspot, illustrates this point beautifully. A profound understanding of what technology is and does is Dharmesh’s core strength. More importantly, as a good engineer, he knows that the user only cares about the ease of use of the front-end and must not be exposed to the complexity of the algorithm or the back-end. His venture before Hubspot, Pyramid Digital Solutions, was founded on these core strengths.
Fast forward to 2006, as social media were gathering pace, and Hubspot was born to help small businesses harness the power of the internet to grow. If you run a small business and are not already familiar with Hubspot tools, do try them out. You will see for yourself.
Core strength is fortified by complementary skills/ how to pick, motivate, reward and retain good teams
Successful entrepreneurs are aware that they owe their success in part to strong teams which are strong in skills they lack. All the serial entrepreneurs I have met, observed and worked with show an amazing knack for picking the right teams. While they have king-size egos otherwise, they are brutally honest to themselves about the skills they lack. Once they pick their trustworthy lieutenants, they treat them well thus motivating and retaining them and their loyalty.
I am aware that while the post is focused on serial entrepreneurs, these could equally be characteristics of a strong strategist and a good leader in a business. How do you see these lessons applying to your business or your clients’ for that matter?