The #1 VC fallacy in venture development is that getting VC means venture success. The reality is that 80% – 90% fail with VC.
The #2 fallacy in venture development is that first movers dominate. Research, and entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Sam Walton, Michael Dell, and Brian Chesky suggest that they do not. You need to be a smart mover, not just a first mover. To develop unicorns, product innovation is not as important as strategic innovation and unicorn skills on an emerging trend.
The 3rd Fallacy of Venture Development from Lisa Su: Now here is a third fallacy stated eloquently by Dr. Lisa Su, the CEO of AMD, and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from MIT: “I saw that MIT Ph.D.’s worked for Harvard MBAs, and the truth is that made absolutely no sense to me.”
2 Key Questions
This raises two questions:
· Can smart technologists be trained to start and build more unicorns, and
· How do you teach unicorn-building skills to smart technologists?
With her skills, expertise and talent, Su has made it to the top of one of the world’s most important companies, at a time when artificial intelligence and the need for AI chips is exploding. And she has proven her genius at taking a small, failing semiconductor company and turning it around to one of the leading companies in a key industry.
Three lessons from Lisa Su’s experience for potential CEOs and Unicorn-Entrepreneurs.
#1. Examine your assumptions. There is no reason to give a free pass to Harvard and Stanford MBAs. There is talent elsewhere. Just because someone chose to get an MBA degree does not mean that they are great leaders. What they have learned in full-time business programs can be taught quite easily in executive education programs.
#2. Technical expertise is important in tech-based industries. In tech-based industries, technology skills may be more important than sales and marketing skills. Even great salespeople cannot sell obsolete and poor products in tech-based markets. Nearly every billion-dollar entrepreneur had some degree of technical skills in the emerging industry he/ she entered.
· Sam Walton (Walmart) and Dick Schulze (Best Buy) knew retail.
· Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce (Intel) knew semiconductors.
· Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Michael Dell knew PCs – they had played with them as teenagers.
· Mark Zuckerberg knew coding – he was offered $1 million to improve the software he developed as a teenager.
#3. Adding leadership skills to tech experts may be easier than adding tech expertise to MBAs. If the executive has leadership traits and interests, it is easier to teach finance and leadership skills to those who have technical skills than it is to teach highly technical skills to finance experts. The basics of finance can be taught in a few weeks.
Unicorn Skills for Talented Technologists
Using the experience of Billion-Dollar Entrepreneurs, who built businesses from startup to more than $1 billion in sales and marketing, here are eight skills that can help all executives and entrepreneurs, including technologists, develop unicorns:
· Technical and operations skills are a paramount need, and especially in emerging industries, to know how to develop the right products and to stay in the lead in the future.
· Sales skills to sell without wasting scarce capital on wasteful marketing strategies.
· Financial skills to finance right and invest wisely in order to do more with less.
· Launch (or re-launch) skills to takeoff with less wasted capital — before the cash runs out.
· Control, organization, and leadership skills to control the company, find and motivate the right people, and lead to win against formidable competitors.
Finance skills to lead unicorns can be taught in a few weeks. Tech skills to build unicorns and lead the world take much longer.
MY TAKE: Finance and leadership skills and finance-smart unicorn strategies are not the sole prerogative of MBAs, Harvard or otherwise. All entrepreneurs can be taught the needed finance and leadership skills and not be replaced by the VCs as happens in up to about 85% of VC-funded ventures. For corporate boards it is imperative that they abandon their prejudices about pedigree, school, race, and gender, and evaluate potential based on talent, skills, track record, and character.