Years ago, I remember thinking how many musicians we would have if kids (and adults) put down Guitar Hero and picked up a real guitar instead. In much the same way, I see so much commentary online about blockchain, but not nearly enough entrepreneurs actually putting in meaningful work to advance the industry.
But I don’t have any experience! But I don’t know what to do!
Neither did many of the innovators we look up to today. They just knew the status quo wasn't good enough and they had the conviction to act.
If you want it, then go get it! If you don’t know how to do it, learn! Tony Robbins talks a lot about our greatest resource and it’s not money or time. It’s resourcefulness because if you are resourceful, you will find the resources.
But don't experienced entrepreneurs make the best entrepreneurs? Not necessarily. Many investors favor repeat entrepreneurs because they believe experience helps them avoid pitfalls and better take advantage of opportunities. While that’s sound logic, it’s more of an anecdote than a rule. In fact, the investor community is awash in anecdotes and assumptions about what “right” looks like and popular media perpetuates an image of entrepreneurs that is often more fiction than fact. I once asked a class of graduate students to profile the “best entrepreneur” and they basically came up with a twenty-something hacker who had an aversion to business casual and skateboarded to work from a barren apartment located a stone’s throw away from company headquarters. With HBO’s Silicon Valley and movies like The Social Network, it’s no wonder they have a skewed view of what an entrepreneur looks like.
However, the Kauffman Foundation looked at 549 successful founders and uncovered some interesting insights into entrepreneurs when they started their companies:
- 40 was their average age
- <1% were “very rich” or “very poor”
- 70% used their own savings as their main source of initial funding
- 70% were married
- 60% had at least one child
But what about experience? Of the ten biggest venture-backed exits in 2015, 60% were led by first-time entrepreneurs and only one company had a founder that had previously started multiple ventures. This isn’t to say that there’s no value to experience, but rather: experience isn’t everything. Many successful first-time entrepreneurs cite their lack of experience as one of their greatest advantages because they weren’t anchored by their fears or preconceived notions. They were also forced to surround themselves with considerable talent to make up for their lack of experience. I, for one, am grateful to be surrounded by over 150 of the most amazing employees who exceed my expectations on a daily basis. In the end, all types of people with all types of backgrounds have become successful entrepreneurs because they had the ability to innovate. That’s “innovate”, not necessarily “invent”.
Many aspiring entrepreneurs are also told they must pioneer some earth-shattering, blue ocean idea in order to be successful, but history is riddled with pioneers who failed despite their inventions. Star pioneered the first safety razor, not Gillette. Dubroni pioneered the first instant camera, not Polaroid. Apple certainly can’t take credit for being the pioneer in digital music. In his book Will and Vision, Gerard Tellis found that only 9% of pioneers end up as the final winners in a market.
The invention of something new is meaningless until someone leverages keen market insight to commercialize that invention. Only then does it become an innovation. Henry Ford didn’t become the father of mass production by inventing anything. Instead, he innovated by leveraging existing concepts such as interchangeable parts used in sewing, continuous flow manufacturing used in canning and assembly line techniques used in breweries in order to revolutionize the automobile industry forever. Gary Rhoads, author of Boom Start, is even more cavalier in his contention that most entrepreneurial R&D should be “rip off and design”. Although this approach may seem insouciant, it’s also empowering because it can level the playing field. Anyone, regardless of pedigree or experience, can have insight and, thus, an opportunity to innovate.
Steve Jobs was a first-time entrepreneur with limited experience and a colorful reputation when he co-founded Apple amidst considerable competition. Nearly 30 years later, after building one of the most valuable companies in history, he offered graduating students at Stanford invaluable advice that every aspiring entrepreneur should internalize.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”
We live in unprecedented times. The rise of blockchain has blessed us with a second once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, hot on the heels of the dot-com era. Don’t sit this one out. If you have ever felt that spark inside you to do something great, then now is the time to ignite your passion and fan the flames that set your soul on fire. Selfishly, I implore you to focus your efforts on blockchain or more broadly, the digital asset industry.
At Phunware (NASDAQ: PHUN), we are doing our part by building an ecosystem with PhunCoin that is leveraging blockchain to decentralize data and reimagine how brands engage consumers. Blockchain has the potential to positively impact virtually every industry, but innovation isn’t governed by market cycles. The companies and ideas that thrive in a bull market are often developed during a bear market. So, what ideas for blockchain do you have? Now is the time to act! Now is the time to do the work!
Remember: the best entrepreneurs aren’t defined by their experience, age or number of startups under their belt. In fact, the best entrepreneurs don’t let you define them at all.