By EM Burlingame
When I set out to join the US Army Special Forces, better known as the ‘Green Berets’, I never imagined the skills and mind development as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and later as a technology investor would be applicable. Nor could I have imagined how my Green Beret training and mission would in turn greatly improve my skills as a once again investor in entrepreneurial ventures.
Surprisingly the mission of the Venture Capitalist and that of the Green Beret turned out to be incredibly similar. Specifically, knowledge and relationship transfer, mentoring and asset modeling emphasizing asset creation in environments of inordinately high degrees of uncertainty and risk were inherent in both professions.
During training, or after while conducting village stability operations in Afghanistan and later while conducting counterterrorism and counter-proliferation operations in Asia, I was able to enhance my contributions through skills developed as tech entrepreneur and later tech investor in Silicon Valley and China. Now that I have returned to investment in entrepreneurial ventures, I find many of the skills and much of the knowledge I picked up during my time with Special Forces has greatly enhanced my abilities as mentor and investor.
As an entrepreneur and investor, preventing wealth destruction and loss of shareholder and stakeholder value were the driving forces behind all decisions conducted in the hyper-competitive environment of startups and business in general. In this arena failure means loss of market share, reduced asset valuations, loss of credibility and difficulty in or failure to reach a successful financial exit.
In Special Forces the driving forces behind all decisions are successfully accomplishing the mission of enabling local forces to conduct operations against those seeking their destruction while returning with all your team members alive and ready to conduct follow-on missions. During my six years with Special Forces there were eight key truths which pervaded through everything and which now pervade all I do as a once again technology entrepreneur and investor.
- The first truth: Always do your own detailed research, and conduct your own Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield. No matter how extensive intelligence collection and analysis are, all intelligence is outdated, incomplete and contextually irrelevant to your specific mission. Only you can truly know your enemy, your friendlies, and the space and complex ways in which these two interact and how a change in any piece of information leads to movements to be benefited from or defended against.
- The second truth: Conduct extensive planning before you ever initiate operations, as failure is not an option when real lives and real assets are at stake in an environment where things will go wrong, even catastrophically so. Planning must consist of a detailed operational strategy denoting necessary and available resources and personnel, movements and activity over time, phases of operation with abort criteria, multiple courses of action, communication plans, risk factors with mitigation strategies for each, and contingency planning providing for maximal Return on Investment in the event of predictable failures.
- The third truth: Your team is absolutely everything and group think kills. Ideas and plans are critical to success, but when the first shot is fired, the entire plan is obviated. Success is then derived almost solely from having the right mix of personnel with the right combinations of hard and soft skills and unique personalities necessary to conduct ever changing contingency operations.
- The fourth truth: It is impossible to possess enough resources and relationships to accomplish the mission alone. Only through investing heavily in and committing fully to the success of your partners and allies can your own success be realized.
- The fifth truth: There are such things as no-win situations, and impossible situations will occur. In these times it is absolutely essential to maintain the calm necessary for rational and logical thought. Most any situation, no matter how catastrophic, allows for a means to survive and even realize a return if calm minds exist and prevail against the chaos.
- The sixth truth: You must remain a quiet professional, as it isn’t about you or your organization. The win does not belong to the individuals or organization providing the resources and knowledge transfer but to those who are in the direct line of fire, putting their life on the line in environments of extremely high risk and uncertainty.
- The seventh truth: Always retain tactical patience, remain calm and stay the course due to the fact the largest and most sustainable returns take time to develop no matter how many resources are applied or how favorable the starting conditions. This is true in a battle and across a battle campaign. Believe in your plan, in your team, partners and allies, and in your ability to address contingencies to collectively adjust the plan on the fly and to continue on no matter what. Everything changes, even the bad, so remain resolute and never stop moving forward.
And the most critical truth of all is to always communicate, constantly engage with your team, partners, allies and any and all involved, no matter how bad the news, so that all may survive and recover quickly. It is easy when things are going well, but when things get hard and losses are occurring, only those who know you care about their well-being will go the extra distance often necessary to snatch victory from defeat.