June 16th, 2011  |  Published in Insights & ideas, Relationships

Be a node, if you want to join the ranks of leading entrepreneurs

Jim Pulcrano is an Executive Director at IMD. He is a member of the Executive MBA team and his doctoral research is on entrepreneurial networking.


What gives you “bragging rights” in Silicon Valley, the land of entrepreneurship, innovation and extreme capitalism? Though no one who is anyone is actually going to betray Northern Californian coolness by bragging, I wanted to go into the minds of successful Valley business leaders to understand what really gets people’s respect there. What do people consider notable? What turns heads? What would someone have to do in order to make it? And, what would get people talking?

 

I recently had the occasion to ask these questions to a variety of movers and shakers that represent a good cross-section of the Valley of Hearts Delight, as it was known long ago. What they’ve shared with me – call it advice, if you will – shows the nature of their mindsets. Here are the traits, some you may have expected and some likely lesser known, that will help you get noticed in an innovative and entrepreneurial environment.

 

Try
Yes, just attempting to do a startup, with all the risks, blood, sweat and tears associated with that decision, will get people’s attention. Many people have ideas, but few go through the headache or find the inner drive to launch an initiative. People in this place know what it means to try, and they respect it.

 

Fail
It’s one thing to try, but having the guts to do it more than once – essentially trying and failing, and coming back to try again – is respectable. Fail often to succeed sooner is a phrase often cited here, and if you haven’t had a few failures, then you aren’t trying hard enough and this could lose you a few points of respect. But overall, failures are judged positively.

 

Reconfigure
Taking a bad business plan and reconfiguring it, or even having the courage to start from scratch – that is expected of anyone who makes the attempt to start a company. It’s not just about being persistent, but about being flexible. Would you be prepared to critique and sway from your dynamite idea? In the Valley, people appreciate how well plans are reconfigured.

 

Be a node
Yes, a node, not a nerd (though being a nerd is a big positive here). Being a major node in diverse networks means that you know people, and people know you. Presumably this means that you have done things that get you respect, but being able to bring a great network to a company or problem is a huge positive. By listening to others, joining in on various networks and participating in what’s around you, you become a connection point for others. And people seek connection points.

 

Have diverse experiences
Just being an average venture capitalist or coder is not good enough. To be deserving of respect among those that walk-the-walk, you should have been part of a startup team, taught at Stanford, had a good job at HP and spent time as an EIR (entrepreneur-in-residence) at a venture capital firm. With that you have the advantage of many points of views and networks. Diverse experiences count.

 

Connect
There are a lot of pieces going into any new venture. Beyond just connecting people, it’s important to also connect the dots between technologies, insights, market opportunities and money. Being able to synthesize is a valuable competence seen throughout area success stories.

 

Create
Entrepreneurs in these parts created something that we all now use (think Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc). They created something from nothing and that something is now ubiquitous. It seems like magic, but do that and you can brag (but you won’t need to).

 

See
Seeing an opportunity is respectable and seeing an opportunity where there was nothing before, even more. If you were the first one to have the insight that led to something completely new, and you took that vision and created something (see “create”), you merit a good share of respect. Visionaries are welcome.

 

Change an industry
Having a startup or two is nice. Making a ton of money is even nicer. But, if you want to reach the top of the hierarchy, you have to change an industry or unseat an existing industrial structure. It’s not just about startups, but about the power that a new idea may eventually have in transforming the norms of today.

 

Give back
It’s expected that those who really make it give back. They wouldn’t likely brag (though they never would have had I not asked) about any of the other items in this article if they hadn’t done something significant for others. You have to give back, and that doesn’t mean waiting until you’re a zillionaire – already now you should be using your network, your energy or your technological skills to create a foundation or something else that will help the less fortunate.

With such criteria in the minds of local leaders, Silicon Valley truly represents a place where everyone in the worlds of innovation and entrepreneurship wants to learn from. Typically, just being there means that you are privileged by education and experience.

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