Saturday, September 15, 2012

Entrepreneur of Another Ilk

Back in March, I featured a post about Sara Blakely's interview with Kai Ryssdal on Blakely is the founder of Spanx. During the interview, she offered a few tidbits:
  • "I feel like a lot of entrepreneurs end up getting in the way of the growth of their own business, because it's a totally different skill set, to run operate a business."
  • "I learned very quickly what I liked to do, what I didn't like to do, what I was good at, and what I wasn't good at, and as soon as I could afford to hire my weaknesses I did."
Hard lessons to learn, but important ones. Know yourself, as the old hemlock-drinker said. Self-knowledge, and self-honesty are paramount to the success of an entrepreneur. Why then is there so much resistance to the honesty of a research entrepreneur who seeks to fill the gaps in business development expertise, marketing and sales, any more so than if an MBA with drive and verve seeks to fill in their gaps in technical fields?

I think of my days as a graduate student and recently-hooded PhD, asking career advice of professors. No matter how well-intentioned, nearly every conversation returned to academia, how to get a foot in the door for a tenure-track post. I realized then that we are all limited to some extent by our own experience. The same is true today of many of my entrepreneurial advisors.

But the path of an entrepreneur is singular. Why then try to fit us all into the same boat, with the same skill sets, the same motivations, the same paths to success? The tent of entrepreneurship ought to be a big one, an inclusive one. I tire of hearing "give me an A-team with a mediocre idea over a great idea with a B-team any day." Why not pair the greatest ideas with the best teams to deliver results?

That's the true path to success.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Lingering Bitter

Recently, I was contacted by a colleague, whom I've known since I first entered my current field. We met at a conference as I began my transition from a would-be academic to a full-time research entrepreneur.* She asked me to write an article for a book she's editing, in particular to capture and promote my vision for the field. Six years since I entered the fray, I am still in many ways an outsider. She wanted an outside-the-box perspective, rather than asking "the people who are developing more of what we have today."

Validation. As I said to her on the phone, "it's good to know I have things to contribute to the field." I was thrilled to be asked, and more than happy to oblige.

* For those who don't know my history, in the three years surrounding completion of my PhD, I submitted fully 150 faculty applications for employment, netted three or four interviews, and not a single offer of full-time employment. I spent one term in "adjunct servitude" with no benefits, too many students, and a salary that barely covered my gas. If graduate school was one of the best times of my life, the academic job search ranks among my lowest points. Discovering the entrepreneur within me was a remarkable journey. I can only imagine that there are thousands just like me. I hope for them that they find entrepreneurship or something equally satisfying to renew and sustain them.

Executive Summary: Inspiration

In 1974, a cast of wild-eyed dreamers gathered at the New York Institute of Technology, with the aim to replace hand-drawn imagery with computer animation. Over the course of the late 1970s the team was acquired by Lucas Films. In 1986, Lucas Films sold the group to a young Steve Jobs, and Pixar, Inc. was founded. In 1996, Pixar delivered Toy Story to a stunned and amazed public, erupting a revolution in computer-generated imagery (CGI) that leap-frogged generations of craft cultivated by the likes of Disney Animation Studios. This revolution is still alive today, delighting a new generation of audiences, and wending its way into myriad business and entertainment uses. In 2006, Disney bought Pixar for $7.4 billion.