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2 posts from November 2006

November 25, 2006

What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Borat

Like many Americans (and few Kazakhs), I saw the Borat movie this Turkey Day weekend.  In addition to being at times hilarious, shocking and offensive, it struck me that there were a few good lessons for entrepreneurs in Sacha Cohen's irony-laced film.

Take risks, without fear.

When one watches the Borat character approaching strangers on NYC subways, attempting to plant "hello" kisses on them, it is thrilling and fascinating.  One frets that Cohen will end up battered and hospitalized by some irate, affronted resident of Gotham.  It is this aggressive risk-taking, fearless approach that makes the charater so engrossing.  It is impossible for the viewer to predict what is going to happen, but you know it will be voyeuristically entertaining.  Entrepreneurs who take bold risks without fear of personal repercussions are similarly fascinating.  They engender the admiration of those around them, who are similarly enthralled by the unpredictability of the outcome and their absence of timidity.

Audacious, yet credible.

This boldness leads to the next attribute that is so striking about Borat.  He is audacious, yet somehow credible.  How else can one explain his ability to lure congressmen, college frat boys, racist cowboys and stuffy socialites on film, only to make complete fools of themselves?  If he were too over-the-top, their BS meters would be firing.  Somehow, he is credible enough to pull off the charade.  Entrepreneurs have similar challenges - they need to be bold enough to inspire, yet credible enough to not lose anyone along the entrepreneurial journey.  Striking this fine balance is an accomplishment that only the most talented entrepreneurs are able to pull off gracefully.

Never stop selling.

We never catch Sacha Cohen on screen out of character.  He is always selling Borat.  No matter what surprises and twists and turns come his way (e.g, walking into a weatherman delivering the daily report), he is always able to remain in character.  Similarly, talented entrepreneurs are always selling.  They are always able to convince customers, partners and employees to follow them despite the odds, despite the twists and turns.  Staying "in character" throughout the many obstacles that challenge an entrepreneur is a valuable attribute that Borat, and others, appreciate.

The final lesson:  have fun with it.  The entrepreneurial journey is a long one with many twists and turns.  A little humor goes a long way.  Just ask Borat.  And if he were to ever want to start IDG Ventures Kazakhstan?  My prediction:  Great Success!

November 12, 2006

Deval Wins - VC Lens

I confess, I'm one of the few Boston VCs who danced a jig over last night's election results, where the Dems swept the nation and Deval Patrick made history as the state's first African-American governor.  In fact, I was probably one of the very few VCs who was at the Hynes Convention Center that evening (flying in from a very long day in NYC) to see all the speeches and celebrate the victory.

I just hope Deval governs from the middle, as promised in some of his recent interviews.  I attended one of the business council meetings before the election and there was a whiff of populism that would make any VC, even very liberal ones, tremble.  We can all agree that Clean Technology is a promising investment area, but should the state government be spending large subsidy dollars when VCs are pouring money into this field?  And why is cleantech a better place for state subsidy dollars than nanotech, stem cell research, wireless, RFID and other promising technologies?  Some in the audience argued that the "capital gap" between angels and VCs required government intervention.  But most practioners know this is an absurd idea in an industry that has too much capital chasing too few ideas and a tremendous oversupply of local capital - in a relatively small economy, MA has the 2nd largest concentration of VCs and consistently attracts the 2nd largest amount of VC capital.

The government needs to be very careful not to try to pick winners and losers.  VCs have a hard enough time figuring out what hot industry and hot companies are worthy of investment - would the MA state government be any better?  I hope Governor Patrick truly focuses his formidable firepower and overwhelming popular mandate on addressing the key issues state government is uniquely capable of addressing, such as:  (1) more affordable housing; (2) more affordable health care for consumers and businesses; (3) a strong public education system, K-12 as well as the state's higher education infrastructure.  If Governor Patrick moves the needle in these important areas, the local economy will really hum.