It has been a while, dear reader. Much to talk about––thousands of miles traveled, crisscrossed Europe and Latin America, many conferences given, innovators met, entrepreneurs grilled, funds raised, new ventures formed. During this time there has been a recurring theme throughout all of my experiences––the perceived arrogance of entrepreneurs. Is this a disease, a necessary evil, perhaps a virtue?
First of all, in fairness to my parents during my formative childhood years in Villa Maria, (Cordoba, Argentina), I will say that arrogance, or haughtiness, was not really among our family values, or those of my friends growing up, for that matter. Perhaps this had something to do with our Mediterranean/Latin culture or maybe our modest incomes.
However, I find myself surprised by the aggressive, sometimes overbearing nature of many Latin American entrepreneurs as they take on their new ventures, nowadays. Have these entrepreneurs imported family values from other cultures (e.g., the US, where confidence bordering on agressiveness is valued)? Or have Latin American family values just changed since my childhood over these decades?
While there is no doubt that globalization is having an impact and leading countries like the US are increasingly exporting their values to the rest of the world, I would like to explore this character attribute being ascribed by some Latin entrepreneurs.
The most valuable asset all entrepreneurs have is time. All innovations have limited shelf lives and globalization makes this shelf life even shorter, as competitors, imitators and copycats abound. Within a finite time window, entrepreneurs face an extraordinary challenge: they must refine an innovation, develop a prototype, market-test, persuade investors, gain media exposure, etc.; you end up with an over-stretched individual, who needs to rob time from family affairs, romance and other typical age activities and still retain social graces. Everything has to be managed and fit in the 24-hours day. Not a small task!
Foreign entrepreneurs in a less entrepreneurially friendly environment — such as Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, or Lima — face an even more daunting task. It’s no secret that Latin America’s entrepreneurial ecosystems are less developed than Silicon Valley’s, its support infrastructures less efficient, its legal framework less transparent, its political climates less friendly, etc. The end result is that entrepreneurs in emerging countries end up with higher overhead and more red tape to overcome to bring their ventures to profitability — this makes entrepreneurship riskier, but most importantly, robs them the most scarce resource of all: time.
And since entrepreneurs are global creatures, they feel increasing pressure to ‘keep up with the Joneses’, so to speak, on a global scale. Skyping, e-mailing or web conferencing, and internet browsing effectively gives them access to global business information from anywhere on the planet. This means that the entrepreneurially astute of Sao Paulo aren’t just comparing themselves with the best in that geography—they’re measuring themselves up against the most competent entrepreneurs everywhere on the planet. This creates additional pressure, naturally.
So the issue is limited time, and within that constraint, effectively managing relationships with three key stakeholders: investors, potential new hires (employees), and current and future clients. These key stakeholders are evaluating risk/benefit concerns as they decide whether to engage with the entrepreneur’s young venture. It is precisely in this timeframe when short fuses are revealed—as competing pressures can become overwhelming. And it is probably here when entrepreneurs are cast in a less than favorable light—and are ascribed all sorts of adjectives like arrogant, aloof, and unresponsive if they respond to pressures suboptimally. Fair or not, the fact is that stakeholders are deciding the risk/benefit equation based on the entrepreneurs’ ability to remain effective and level-headed during these high-pressure (and often emotional) times. During these times, the business relationships with future employees, clients, and investors will be sealed.
Clearly, I cannot change the reality described, as most of us are at times caught off guard by having to make difficult decisions amidst moment-to-moment trade-offs and multiple competing commitments in our daily lives. However, the successful entrepreneur preempts these high-pressure moments, or, at least, prepares diligently beforehand. Just as an Olympic athlete sweats and trains hard in the months and years leading up to the Olympics, global entrepreneurs leading born global ventures must prepare in a way that is literally unprecedented and totally unheard of in the old economy. This is what sets global entrepreneurs apart, allowing their heart and mind to shine through their innovative ventures!
A unique manifestation of this preparation is the entrepreneur’s ability to “sell” his/her venture in the now famous (elevator) pitching techniques. Having coached, taught, listened, critiqued, evaluated, graded, judged hundred of pitches in many innovation and entrepreneurship activities here in the Valley and around the world, I have concluded that striking the right balance between substance and delivery (presentation skills—and the theatrical) is essential.
At its core, an elevator pitch and the business pitch that (hopefully) follows is a time management tool for you and your audience, if these are done properly. The essence of these pitches is to demonstrate your ability to master the complexity of your business and subsequently present it with simplicity and elegance, so that a college freshman might understand it. I have always marveled at the elegance and simplicity of Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence, E=mc2, or Newton’s hallmark discovery, F=ma — both equations totaling a handful of characters. In my third-year college physics class, we derived Einstein’s equation and it took dozens of pages of rigorous, laborious mathematics. My classmates and I were floored — attaining simplicity is excruciatingly difficult, but it is, as da Vinci poetically put it, “the ultimate sophistication.”
There’s no doubt that any young venture bringing a new product or service to the marketplace is an arduous task, and in part that complexity is due to the novelty of the innovation and its disruptive nature. Early stage ventures are challenging because there are so many unknowns most of the time––either due to a lack of experience on the part of the entrepreneur, or just the sheer newness of the market. All of this is fine and understood. However, these complexities are no excuse for us not to pursue the crucial intellectual heavy lifting required to contrive a “new order of things” (borrowing from Machiavelli). If you can pursue this heavy lifting with optimism and courage, you will master a new business and its economic niche. You will succeed even faster, I might add, if you have the courage to say ‘I don’t know’ when required.
Mastering the complexity of your young venture, and pitching it effectively to the various constituencies will help with your time management and cast you in a better light as a responsive and engaging entrepreneur.
As a promise, dear reader, I will publish soon a technique for how to develop your elevator pitch bearing these concepts in mind.
Until then – Carlos B.