SpecOps “Cool Guys” and first-time entrepreneurs “Cool Kids” suffer alike from the very same malady. Both believe they are the center of the universe, the critical tip of the spear. Neither recognizes they are only a bit player, providing only an infinitesimally small piece of a much larger effort. In the world of SpecOps, any given mission is only a small part of a much larger campaign strategy, while in the world of entrepreneurship the startups product or service is only a small part of a much larger ecosystem.
Many years ago, as a first-time entrepreneur, my co-founders and I believed we had the very best solution in the marketplace, that we were revolutionary, and were going to change the world. We were right, we had the very best product anywhere in the marketplace. But ultimately, we failed. Why? Because the market doesn’t want the perfect solution, because perfect solutions, lowest prices, and all the many other things entrepreneurs believe make their product irresistible are not the factors that drive customer decisions.
Having once played at being a “Cool Guy” I’ve sat through endless mission briefs, perfect plans with perfect strategies to perfectly effect a specific problem, all of which would individually turn the tide of war. Most were never approved, greatly angering the team pitching the plan. A team that rarely understood the reasons for the denial, believing their solution to be the only one necessary to win. As an entrepreneur, I’ve had to raise funds for my own ventures, most attempts at which never even got to a full pitch. Just as with the Cool Guys, my team and I believed if the investors could only understand how revolutionary our solution was.
In the course of my career so far, I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked closely with Theatre Level Cool Guys and as an early stage tech startup investor and investment banker. This combined experience has given me a far greater appreciation of the decision-making processes of approving authorities, whether they be in SpecOps, Venture Capital or major corporations. But more, this experience has provided me with a far deeper understanding of just how complex and intricately involved everything is, whether in the warfare of counterterrorism or that of entrepreneurship.
While both Cool Guys and Cool Kids share the same false assumption, namely, they are the center of the universe, a result of cockiness derived from inexperience, none-the-less the successful ones both have something to offer the other. And both have something to offer more established, larger organizations.
- Despite believing their particular mission is going to change the course of the war, Cool Guys, still understand thoroughly the need for allies, for supporting efforts, for detailed planning, for collaboration, messaging, positioning, hearts and minds, resource sharing, follow-on missions, and mid-stream course corrections. They understand they do not own the battlespace, the victory is not theirs, that there is a far bigger combined mission playing out with forces vastly larger than just their 12 man team.
- While they may falsely believe their product or service is going to change the industry forever making their company the most important in the world, startup teams do know how to think outside the box, to innovate, how to rapidly adapt their product or service in highly complex ways to meet the changing needs of their market, to take direction from failure to raise investment or close clients and to adjust themselves accordingly without giving up, without losing a step in their forward progress to market success.
Ideally, the core capacities of both the Cool Guys and the Cool Kids would be combined in the startup teams we invest in. Each possesses core strengths necessary to succeed on the ground. Combining core strengths, however, while improving chances at eventual market success, even this combination would do little to overcome the critical weakness shared by both. Namely, that being the belief their team and effort is the center of the universe and is going to change it all. The only way in which to address this shared flaw is for each to, “Get over yourself, you’re not the main effort.”
The world is increasingly complex and intricately involved, not requiring or even capable of perfect solutions or answers, with decisions not made for ultimate success but rather only for the success possible given the context of all those individual decision-makers involved and impacted, at every level. Decisions these decision-makers themselves must take, balancing many impacting forces which rarely are as simple as price or quality. Meaning, the course of industries, business ecosystems, and wars alike are never changed by the introduction of a perfect product or battle but by the interplay of all those many decisions decision-makers settle upon. Decisions which are never made in a vacuum but which must be made in the context of highly fluid and complex, often competing, business and even more importantly, social obligations, where there is no main effort.
And that is the point right there. There is no main effort. There are only context-relevant decisions that have to be made, a context which is only marginally related to price or quality or even to business at all. So, get over yourself and start looking at your product or service in the context of all the many individuals who have to make decisions in order for your product or service to become part of the much larger and now global market and civilization. In particular, put time and energy into truly understanding the environmental and social context in which investors, shareholders and stakeholders, vendors, partners, clients, and their clients have to make decisions, all of which extend far beyond business alone.
E.M. is a Silicon Valley techpreneur and later Private Equity investor and Investment Banker with an emphasis on very early-stage technology companies. After completing active duty service with 1st BN 1st Special Forces Group, E.M founded the Honos Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to empowering local entrepreneurship in violence repressed areas, and Founder and Managing Director of Emerio Group, an early-stage investment advisory. Following a degree in Strategic Studies and Defense Analysis at Norwich, he is now pursuing Ph.D. studies in Interdisciplinary Engineering, with an emphasis on Computational Engineering at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
This first appeared in The Havok Journal on April 26, 2019.