You're Not Steve Jobs -- And That's OK

Startup employees and new investors are looking for people they actually like who are insanely passionate about their ideas; not inflexible, uninspiring drones.
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The perfect entrepreneur has no life. He sends emails at all hours of the night, lacks normal social interactions, rarely has time for familial relationships and probably sleeps under his desk. There are no holidays or days off. The company is king and all facets of it dominate his realm on a 24/7 basis.

What many entrepreneurs don't realize is that venture capitalists, angel investors, the media, and the general business community are rarely looking for the isolated autocrat. There are flashes of brilliant obsession of course. One need only look at the comet-like successes of Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates as examples of uber concentration and unrelenting will. Walter Isaacson's excellent biography of Jobs lays bare many of the characteristics which made Apple and Pixar the monumental triumphs they are. Jobs' supreme deliberation and relentless pursuit of a seamless marriage of technology and creativity revolutionized the digital age. Likewise, it is commonly agreed that Facebook began as a reflection of an insular, socially awkward teen looking to expand his social network.

Yet, these are not the makings of most entrepreneurs and probably never will be. Granted, most entrepreneurs are a tad off, fairly unique and sometimes just plain crazy. Rational thought plays little part in pursuing an uncharted course rife with massive personal, professional and financial risk. Some would say it's a calculated risk but it's loaded with gambling metaphors. Understanding your product, market, competitors, employees and taking out the company trash is an all-consuming lifestyle that leaves little room for much else in life when you're launching your business. Various studies have borne out that the divorce and substance abuse rates amongst early-stage entrepreneurs is far above the normal level. Simply put, when you're in charge and the phone rings, you have to answer. It's very hard to pass on that call to "Bob in Accounting" or claim that you've accrued enough vacation time to send out an "Out of Office" email. My kids were all born during the launch/growth phase of various startups I was running so while I didn't quite answer the phone in the delivery room, I've had my share of conference calls while changing a diaper.

What most potential entrepreneurs should understand is that while dedication is one thing, obsession is another. Like any dating ritual, potential investors are looking for long-term mates, not obsessive one-night stands. Be sure that this is on their radar when reviewing the management team. Questions about your life outside the company are topical, important and beyond relevant: "Are you dating anyone/are you married?; Do you have any hobbies?; Are you media friendly?; Do you exercise?" If the answers to all the questions are no, you'd better have an unbelievable or life-changing product. Otherwise, most venture capitalists, corporate partners, and even the media will run for the hills. There is no story to be told there, no ambience to embrace. Similarly, the insane hours, overwhelming workload, and fractured structure demand some level of normalcy when assembling the startup team. Personally, I knew it was time to leave one of my earlier startups when conference calls and meetings were repeatedly scheduled for Saturday nights. Sure it makes sense to demand unwavering loyalty, brutal honesty, and rapid fire response time, but it better be fun or it better be interesting or turnover rates and morale will be a constant source of frustration.

It's still early in 2012, but the investment community isn't investing in robots to launch new businesses just yet. Startup employees and new investors are looking for people they actually like who are insanely passionate about their ideas; not inflexible, uninspiring drones. It makes perfect sense to understand and model some of the business strategies of a Jobs or Zuckerberg, but make a point to create your own entrepreneurial culture. Create it early and create it often; you and your new company will be better off.

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