Exemplars from the Data Book to illustrate obsessed maniacs and clairvoyant oracles
Selecting passages from the foregoing evocative themes within the Data Book developed in this research, the following interpretive analysis and illustrative quotations provide evidence to support the entrepreneurial descriptors, obsessed maniac and clairvoyant oracle:
Drive and perseverance - workaholism
One theme related to both drive and perseverance and prevalent among all the data sets is workaholism. The entrepreneur who has contracted with himself or herself to make good on countless promises by positioning for the best opportunities is very likely consigned to fulfill many functional roles in an emerging venture and, at the same, be possessed of the motivation to perform multiple ‘full-time’ and part-time jobs in parallel, since once the enterprise is put in motion, the rewards for its success are presumably ample and the penalties for its failure abhorrent. Such is the obsessed conviction of the entrepreneurial workaholic. Examples include:
To get as far as we did, I spent a great deal of time and energy, traveling, days away from home, 60-hour work weeks from Sunday evening to Friday night.
It’s so all-consuming—you’re spread so thin. At the outset you literally are always working on it, substituting human capital for the thin financial capital—that’s why it’s called sweat equity. The mind is focused on this one thing. Friends who have not participated in starting a business won’t understand and think you are obsessed. You have to be obsessed to build it—you have to be!
McGowan returned home in May, barely a month after the surgery. By July, he was at work half-days. Last month, he returned to his desk full time—“a normal full day,” he says, “not those crazy full days” of the past. His energy now is much greater than before his heart attack, his wife reports. In fact, when a physician told her that McGowan probably had a “silent” heart attack years ago and had been working at only about half capacity ever since, she said to herself, “Oh, my God, doctor, if you only knew!” (Cook 1987)
Drive and perseverance - perfectionism, control issues
The theme of perfectionism and control issues surfaced in many instances among the data sets, concentrating and extending the driven persistence of some entrepreneurial subjects onto those around them, sometimes to an obsessive degree. Some excerpts that exhibit this are as follows:
I tend to be a perfectionist and probably should have released the product sooner.
I always got everything to go the way I thought they should.
This is the most difficult time of my life—I am a doer and I can make people do things, but if I can’t I feel I have failed.
Because quality and cleanliness were near obsessions with Kroc (his oft-quoted motto: “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean”), he automated as many operations as possible and instituted rigid training programs at “Hamburger University” for franchise owners, whom he required to manage their own stores. Many who came in contact with Kroc over the years complained of his abrasive manner and large ego, but his insistence on absolute conformity to his ideas was largely the reason for the chain's success. (Davids 1999)
Drive and perseverance - difficulty accepting rejection of ideas, stubborn, immobile
Difficulty accepting rejection of ideas, stubbornness, and immobility forge another prevalent theme - a sense of single-minded purpose - akin to egocentrism but imposed obsessively on the venture and the others engaged in its formation and operation. The following instances evince the interpretation of this theme:
On day one I had no clue where I was going with this, but I just did not want to quit. I had been in another golf equipment company that went broke, but I couldn’t bear to walk away.
It wasn’t easy to test ideas dealing with hardware—I went too much on ‘gut’ about what the market wanted and what we could do technically. Perhaps more market research for real testing would have made sense, but ego is a massive fuel and a real bad drug. The market can call your baby ugly but you don’t want to hear it, and then you react like you’ve picked the wrong customers before admitting that you’ve built the wrong product.
Personal health and well-being, relationships - negative impacts; neglect of personal friendships/relationships/leisure
A relatively minor but frequent theme describes the personal toll that entrepreneurial obsession can take, such as in this example:
Personal sacrifice? Just to put it in perspective, I have no life. On Facebook I’m engaged to my company. No health problems, but I’ve gained about 40 lbs. It’s difficult to talk about anything outside the company. No strained relationships because there aren’t any.
During Subject G23’s “most” entrepreneurial days (first venture), the time and personal commitment required for the business put such a huge strain on his personal relationship (his marriage) that it resulted in a divorce. It also permanently destroyed his relationship with his first partner (his best friend).
Personal characteristics - aggressiveness
Aggressiveness here is beyond assertive, ambitious self-confidence; it is a conspicuous or even brazen public display of dominant posturing - acts of competitive, territorial cocksureness - possibly blatant threats, or conversely, provocative but productive cage rattling - acts suggestive of mania as portrayed in the excerpts below:
Subject G2 learned three very important lessons from this episode. Lesson number one was that regulators are concerned with only two things, keeping their files straight and keeping their jobs. The only way to get their attention is to threaten one or the other.
Scott McNealy encountered heavy criticism during the economic downturn, forcing him to justify his research and development spending as Sun lost market share and prestige. “People have been calling us irrelevant, dead, a zombie, a takeover target, not worth taking over. We’ve been insulted about every way you can imagine,” he said. “All of sudden, we are relevant, we’re growing, making money, gaining share.” Sun has introduced new products and strategies this year that have generated buzz for a company many thought was on the decline. The resurgence shows why it’s best to spend money to develop new products, and why Dell and H-P aren’t serious competitive threats, Mr. McNealy said in an interview. Dell has simply proved it knows how to sell computers, he said, and H-P hasn’t done enough to innovate. “Everybody who’s doing PCs is not in the computer business. They’re PC distributors,” he said. “The only two computer companies in the PC business are Intel and Microsoft.” (Crayton 2004)
While Moore and Noyce were quiet and calm, Grove was volatile. During a business review, Grove would explode, “That’s nonsense!” A heated discussion would ensue. The episode would typically end with a thoughtful summary and proposed solution from Moore. The review would then proceed until Grove erupted again. Grove would surface the issues (albeit not very diplomatically) that required discussion and could profit from the insights of Moore and Noyce. While no pushovers, Moore and Noyce’s style would not necessarily have surfaced the tough issues. The three members of the Office were opposites. Yet they were able to convert their differences into compliments rather than conflicts. Indeed the group regarded conflict to be healthy Grove wrote about “constructive confrontation” as a means to surface tough issues and discuss them from all sides. (O'Toole et al., 2002, pp. 70-71)
Experiencing good fortune - happy accidents; winging it without a plan
This theme of happy accidents pertains to ‘seat-of-the-pants’ opportunism when unplanned avenues of commerce just unfold in a surprising sequence of good fortune or less-than-judicious, perhaps slightly manic impulse, as exemplified in the following instances from the data:
My team was part of a smaller subcontractor hired to build hardware. After the original contract ended, I left with the intent to start a company and hire another CEO because I did not have any specific business experience, but I was appointed CEO by the founding team.
Subject G11 reported, “Plans? We started off as a software company and now we build flying cars, equipment boxes for Humvees and diagnostic tools for the B2 bomber. I would say that we adjusted regularly. As we started getting contracts to develop things, customers would come back to us and ask us, ‘do you think that you can do this?’ and a new business opportunity would be created.” “We try to never say ‘no’ to anyone when they ask us about a project. At the same time we try and capitalize on everything we discover as well. Our proprietary wafers are the result of trying to come up with a lightweight material to build Skyrider with, but it has also become ballistics armour and high strength tool boxes. We also try and capitalize on relationships we already have.”
Drive and perseverance - personal ambition, restless, always moving ahead
The theme of drive and perseverance also encompasses personal ambition, which may indeed serve as the underlying motivator for the entrepreneurial workaholic. Ambition may be about money, pride, ego, fame, and other contributing factors that inspire a subject to foray into entrepreneurship, at times exhibiting a degree of mania. Examples include:
Opportunity comes from a whim or a notion of, “Hey! I’d like to be able to do this.” But does anybody else want it, do you care about it enough to make it happen—and make it last? Do you have the passion and the commitment? A startup is like having a child.
Subject G2’s old company [that he had been squeezed out of by the VC’s board of directors] had gone bankrupt and all of it assets had been sold at auction. An attorney who had done business with that prior company while Subject G2 was still at the helm who knew him personally purchased the name and intellectual property of the firm. He then offered to revive the company, provide it with financing, and give Subject G2 a 51% ownership stake if he would come back and retake the helm. Although flattered by the offer, Subject declined. “It was everything an entrepreneur could ever hope to ask for, but I had moved on from where I was before and that company was in my past.”
Imbued with a perception of his own importance on a stage where everything from telephony to music distribution to consumers’ relationships with technology is being disrupted, [Steve] Jobs felt there was simply no time to lose. This understanding has fueled the rapid-fire pace of his actions and his obsession with “what’s next?” in products (although he would never rush to market a product he thought imperfect). It may have also fed his often harsh, dictatorial, and somehow still-inspiring management style. (Koehn 2009)
Once her revenues reached $10 a week, her husband tried to persuade her to slow down. But Madame Walker, as she became known, had bigger ambitions. She set up an office in Pittsburgh, a factory in Indianapolis, and a salon in New York City. She built a sales force of 2,000 mainly black women who were trained in hairdressing and in sales techniques at company-run schools. (Nulty 1992, p. 116)
Drive and perseverance - exaggerated optimism, passion, excitement, loving what they do
A sense of exaggerated optimism, passion, and excitement for what they do was expressed by many subjects among the data sets, demonstrating an enthusiasm beyond what most people would muster for a work-related proposition, and sometimes exhibiting an appetite for their craft bordering mania. The following instances evince the interpretation of this theme:
An obvious thing to say would be that my best moment was the sale of the company. That was nice, but the best thing was between flop 1 and flop 2—we were going to partner with another group. I had $20 k left and $20 k payroll coming up and then the teaming partner sent a letter backing out. My stomach dropped. This was the death knell. I drove home and cried and told no one. After a sleepless night I called a big competitor and their CEO asked how soon could I make a proposal to his Board? I went to California on no sleep for days, but then landed a $6 M licensing deal which changed everything back to right again. This was the crowning glory—to be out on the edge of the cliff, even to fall—but then I caught a branch on the way down!
He reports that everyone wants to “fly with their own wings” but most people choose not to start a new business because they see obstacles as disadvantages rather than challenges. G12 states that his entrepreneurial spirit is a disease that does not allow him to see the bad side of starting a business. In his own words, “the best way is always the hardest anyway.”
Kroc's intense personality and his vision of a national fast-food chain dominated McDonald's from Day One. He was short-tempered, politically conservative, tireless and perpetually optimistic. An extraordinary motivator, Kroc fired up his troops with maxim that adorn company bulletin boards to this day. "Free enterprise will work if you will," was a favorite. (Carlson 1989)
All of this has made the industry buzz with speculation that Sun, one of the vendors hardest hit by the dot-com and telecom blowouts, might not make it through the economic downturn. The company’s stock price sunk lower and lower, trading below $3 last month. But through it all, the irrepressible McNealy has remained confident, and his company has continued to launch new products … an always-confident McNealy continues to see Sun’s cup as half full. (Montalbano 2002)
Personal health and well-being, relationships - negative impacts; symptoms of anxiety, stress and pressure as part of the job
All data sources confirm the ubiquity of anxiety, stress, and pressure as part of the entrepreneur's job, sometimes taking on manic proportion as evinced in this sampling of incidences:
The contract laws that ultimately resulted in my forced sale and all that was involved was debilitatingly stressful. I don’t care to relive the details.
As far back as anyone can remember, Bill McGowan was a workaholic. His workweek was usually seven days, his workday 12 to 15 hours. “I wasn’t asleep,” he explains now. “What else would I do?” He never exercised. He drank cup after cup of coffee and smoked three packs of Larks a day. (Cook 1987)
Personal characteristics - natural salesperson, ability to sell idea, persuasiveness
Many subjects exhibit a flair for communicating with enthusiasm their beliefs in their venture propositions and intrinsically recognize the imperative for coalition-building, team-building, and strategic alliances as prelude and in parallel with selling their products or services. The interpretation of this theme is that the entrepreneur foremost is selling himself or herself, then in succession, selling the venture concept, the business relationships, and then finally the business deliverables. Entrepreneurship involves making countless promises: promises to make things happen, promises that plans can be made to work out, promises to solve technical problems, and promises to pay or repay quantities of cash in exchange for the faith in the entrepreneur's ability to deliver on all of these simultaneous promises. Often, the ability to deliver on any one promise is a function of being able to deliver on them all. The venture initiation becomes real when these promises become binding contracts. The system of interdependencies the entrepreneur constructs is also dynamic, comprising many other actors and factors over which the entrepreneur may have little control beyond the power of persuasion - to persuade others to make things go or conversely perhaps to persuade them to sit still and not run off until other things can be made to happen.
Sometimes do these circumstances not only reflect entrepreneurial obsession and mania, but the champion must be as convincing as a clairvoyant oracle. On the subject of salesmanship and the art of persuasion, the Data Book offers a few examples:
Strategy is selling from optimistic truth; with leadership like a con man—selling the employees, selling the investors, selling the customer—but from the heart like a white knight.
The message is: whatever business you’re in, you are selling a service—otherwise it’s just another product.
By 1995, Jobs was back in the news with a renewed relationship with Apple. Apple’s very existence was in doubt until he persuaded Apple’s long-time adversary, Microsoft, and its chairman, Bill Gates, to invest $150 million in Apple. (Rogowski and Reilly 2000, p. 662)
In the same way that Henry Ford realized that by keeping selections limited (e.g., color choice: black) he could mass-produce economical cars, Kroc kept the menu simple and the standardization high, to mass-produce economical meals. Each patty, for example, had to weigh exactly 1.6 ounces and be exactly 0.221 inches thick. Manuals documented to the second how to make a shake. Then, through massive advertising, Kroc enticed Americans to recognize their need for his product. As Kroc once cleverly said, “The definition of salesmanship is the gentle art of letting the customer have it your way.” (Davids 1999, p. 35)
Actively positioning for opportunity - vision, seeing what others do not see
Vision is a multi-dimensional theme that encompasses foresight and inspiration, an extra-sensory quality that empowers the entrepreneur to perceive deficiencies in technical capabilities, market needs, or possibly both, and to formulate new arrangements of matter, energy, information - molded and enacted via human behaviors and relationships that are not yet scripted - to satisfy the void or simply improve the way the human world works. For many, vision is capricious and arbitrary, a tacit and elusive phenomenon. Others report cultivating and honing a willful prescience through practice. By whichever vision emanates, it impresses a weighty impact on the movements of entrepreneurship and undergirds the notion of clairvoyant oracle. Instances are abundant in all three data sets:
I’ve always had the opinion that advertising is not the only revenue source on-line. Inspiration came from when I used to be a photographer and couldn’t believe how little my work was worth as stock photos. Then at National Geographic I built an extranet and international licensing people started using it for distribution of content to affiliates. But video multimedia starting around 2008, made it crash and there was no system available to solve this problem. No system could handle the streaming and the massive content and the various formats all at once. So I quit that company and set out to build such a system. I spent the next six months getting a team together and started to strategize on how to make it go.
My system was designed to permit project managers in the construction trade to track their field workers’ hours and work performance by the workers using their cell phones as mobile data terminals. This was in an era when all the construction workers had begun using cell phones, but there was not a lot of Internet familiarity in the trade, and construction managers were not big on computers. This absence of technology seemed particularly prevalent in the niche craft where I started. My system let the field guys punch in a few codes and the office received a consolidated report of everybody’s time allocations by jobsite and task.
I had thought that I was selling a product, but when I switched over to a custom service I made an unsalable product worth $1000 per custom set!
Growing up in communist regime, Subject G3 longed for being able to practice journalism in a censorship-free environment. This aspiration became possible when he relocated to North America. While screening opportunities, he took notice of the emerging Internet and clearly saw the full potential of this new communication tool. According to G3, the majority of media professionals in mid-1990s considered the Internet ‘fourth medium’, inferior to TV, radio, and newspaper. G3 on the contrary, regarded the Internet as ‘first medium’. The reasons are twofold. First, the Internet not only has the individual power of newspaper, radio, and TV but it also can combine their individual effects—prints, sound and vision—in a single platform. Second, the Internet is superior to these media because it can reach far greater number of people at a relatively low cost. … One critical factor contributing to G3’s company’s success is its strategy to preempt and dominate the Internet news service before its competitors. The timing was perfect. When the company was founded, most of its target customers had noticed English on-line news but could not find comparable service in Chinese version.
When McGowan looked at the problem his way—from more than one direction—he noticed two things. First, no one could explain to his satisfaction why AT&T deserved its long-distance monopoly. “People said AT&T is so smart and so loved and so big,” he recalls. “Or they said that’s just the way it is. But I once worked for a railroad that had its own phone system, switchboards and all, so I knew better.” Second, he could see that a lean competitor with lower overhead could underprice the giant. (Nulty 1992, p. 112)
But Jobs, the co-founder of Apple Computer Inc., saw with startling clarity something few people realized: Computers would not be confined to the laboratories of government and industry; rather, they would become the stuff of everyday life. He forced this development relentlessly—sometimes using his boyish charm and sometimes his fury—by developing “friendly” computers that were small, attractive, inexpensive, and easy to use. (Nulty 1992, p. 114)
As one of the most remarkable pioneers in chip technology, Moore has been in the unusual position of defining a law and then making sure it applies. The diminishing size and increasing speed of chips are the driving forces of technological advancement, and Intel, under the leadership of Moore, Robert Noyce and CEO Andy Grove, has changed the focus of buyers from the machine itself to the chip inside. Moore has been at the heart of the new alchemy of computer science for almost four decades, happily admitting he’s been at the right place at the right time on more than a few occasions. Moore’s progress has been prescient to an uncanny degree. (Edwards 1994)
Actively positioning for opportunity - investing personal resources in business idea
This theme describes the commitment the entrepreneur is willing to submit in terms of personal finances or other resources - to get a concept off the ground, to nourish, and nurture a fledgling enterprise, or perhaps to prove dedicated ‘skin in the game’ as an appeal to other investors. The illustrative excerpts from the data demonstrate these entrepreneurs' faith in their own sense of clairvoyant oracle:
We had lots of cash flow problems beyond our control, and I had to keep personally investing out of pocket to pay bills.
During expansion phases—hiring and buying stuff before money comes in—it is a little hairy. We have been self-capitalized and bootstrapped, and I’ve put more in from myself if there were shortfalls. I’ve taken no outside sources of capital.
The only advice Subject G24 could give to an aspiring entrepreneur about financing is that you will “mind the store” a whole lot better if it is your own money at risk – and not someone else’s.
McGowan took control of MCI after paying off its debt himself, and for the next two decades he chipped away at AT&T, first at its control of long-distance service and, when that cracked, at its customer base. He moved MCI to Washington, D.C., all the better to lobby in the halls of government and attack in the federal courts. (Nulty 1992, p. 112)
Experiencing good fortune - make your own luck; go after it aggressively
Several subjects recounted more methodical means of encouraging good fortune, whether happy accidents of any description came their way. Rather than wait for some elusive convergence of coincidence and circumstance, which no subjects outwardly advocated, the savvy approach is to plan for potential opportunities and maneuver them into position to elevate the chance of beneficial returns - a calculated gamble on the hunch of a clairvoyant oracle. Several instances are found in the data:
The closest thing to strategic planning we had was that we were opportunistically prepared—we would specifically invest in software or skills for staff even if only vaguely related to things we thought we might like to be able to do—up to a reasonable level—simply so if an opportunity presented itself, someone on staff would know something about that application. We called it ‘popcorn software’. It was our primary source of organic growth.
One time I gave my crew a two-day free-for-all to come up with new ideas and recommend changes while the executives were at a conference. This led to the cell phone interface that made the Singapore contract possible. I wish the engineers could often be given more time to just explore, with less pressure to deliver a product and curb costs.
I am a synergist entrepreneur; I don’t go into the lab and invent a new widget. I look for the trends and try to see where there will be a convergence—to look for multiple non-linear advantages and opportunities—that’s where you want to be, to make your entrance.