By Brent Holliday
now, you’re an all-star
Get your game on…
a shooting star.” –
am listening to the radio in Seattle as I navigate the
405 traffic mess. Jobs.com
has a commercial on that features Tom Peters, the
loud-mouthed guru of personal career advancement.
Tom screams at the listener to “get up out of
that cubicle. It’s
a large wired, web world out there and you need to build
your personal arsenal so that you can attack the
uncertainty and succeed in the 21st
the lady comes back on and says that jobs.com is where
to go to find that better place to be.
Sell the dream. Oh yeah.
is no doubt that we live in an ever accelerating pace of
what exactly does Tom mean by success?
In my line of work, I always talk about building
By default, successful companies are built by
So, what is a successful person in 2000?
Company is the manifesto of the newly empowered “free
agent nation”. It
reads like a “how to” to succeed as a corporation of
new markets. Be
loyal only to you. Be competitive.
All in the name of personal “success”.
And, in almost all cases, the sexy places to be
are in technology.
The “new economy” is real and you had better
be part of it, or else.
have been summarily thrashed in the 90’s, first by
Doug Coupland and then by Dilbert.
It is so un-cool, un-hip and plain boring to work
at a big company. Climb
the corporate ladder?
I’d rather climb a razor blade.
Do we really admire the automaton Japanese
corporations with the 100 year business plans like we
did in the late 80’s?
Not any more.
Now we celebrate a resume that reads like a
weekly journal (On Monday, I worked at XYZ, but felt my
growth was restricted, so Tuesday I jumped for a new
company that empowered their employees with fat stock
I am to buy into the new business rules, if I am to play
the new game, then what is it that I am trying to win?
What is the “success”?
Being loyal only to me gets me… what exactly?
let’s see. Succeed
rhymes with greed.
I think it is safe to say that society, in the US
has equated the new success to the instant billion
dollar fortunes being won in this incredible growth
period. Everybody talks about personal worth of the top
executives at many of these new companies as though they
were throwing around football scores. In Canada, we have
not been as brazen at talking up the success as measured
by monetary worth.
It feels almost rude of me here in Canada to even
present to you a matter of public record that anyone
could look up in about 3 minutes: Norm Francis, CEO at
Pivotal has shares worth about $170 M today.
of the people that have “succeeded” in making
millions will publicly state that it isn’t about the
yourself in their shoes.
I’m sure you have.
What would you do with all of that money?
Would you feel that you had succeeded?
Or would you look at Jim Pattison (a billionaire)
and say, I’m gonna be more of a success than him.
Is it ever enough? Once you reach a certain level of wealth, is “success”
more about having a bigger net worth?
“success” that Tom espouses has turned into a
Top 25 leaders of the new economy.
Top 100 richest people.
Top 100 richest people in technology (now almost
the same list). Most
powerful people in the Silicon Valley.
Top 40 under 40 in Vancouver and in Canada.
And we eat it up.
We buy those magazines.
We read those lists and we dream.
is success about making one of those lists?
know my definition of success includes money.
I bet about 99% of you would agree.
However in my experience, success is all relative
to scope. You
can be successful and create wealth from running a
business in your town.
You will be satisfied at the end of the day at
accomplishing your goals in a local or regional market.
You will achieve personal success.
Similarly, you may be successful at a role within
your company for which you are rewarded. This used to be a noble thing.
But Tom Peters says NO, keep going.
Be better. Stand
still today and you will be squashed like a bug.
If you didn’t make a list, how can you be a
success, he says…
the end of the day, the level of success at which you
feel satisfied, the time that the competitive juices
stop flowing, is a very personal thing.
I would have to say that most people don’t stop
at personal success as a means of being satisfied.
If you accomplished all of your goals in life and
you could retire without ever giving a hoot about what
others thought, then you are in the minority.
Most of us do care what others think, especially
in our peer group.
success is not a personal thing at all.
It’s a moving target.
How do I impress the people that I work with or
against every day?
How do I get to the point where they all say that
I am a success? What
is the metric for that?
Enter our good friend,
greed, there is ego in helping us define success.
Would you be happier having not made millions if
you knew that every peer has recognized you as a winner?
Think of the scientific and academic communities
and their “peer-review” governance. This is clearly where success comes from for these groups.
I met “Illiad” the other day.
For you non-geeks, he’s the author of User
Friendly, a wildly successful comic strip that only true
network and computer geeks get.
If he never made another dime in his life, it’s
quite possible that he would be happy with his success.
On the streets of Vancouver, he’s another guy.
In a developer’s conference, he’s the man.
In his peer group, he walks on water.
are a few of us that would not be satisfied with
There are people who want more.
Greed and ego are a huge part of the success
definition, but the opiate for them is power.
It’s not necessarily an evil Gordon Gecko
talking about the burning need to be in front of the
world stage to share their thoughts, consult with the
leaders and rub shoulders with the elite.
These people want to change the world and are
usually the leaders of industry.
Steve Jobs is the poster boy for these people.
Somewhere along the way in Steve’s life, he saw
that he might create something “insanely great”. Then his definition of success moved from peer recognition to
trouble is that, while I recognize that you don’t have
to buy into the new standards for success in society to
actually achieve your own personal success, in my role
as a VC, I am looking for people to build companies that
are driven to be world recognized, world changing
is not enough for me to back successful regional
need to get involved with big ideas that could be huge
you that kind of person?
Have you joined this new societal revolution that
Tom Peters espouses? Have you stopped to think about when, where and why you would
be satisfied? Does
that meaning of success have a dollar figure attached to
it? Are you
making the next “insanely great” thing?
Lots of questions, I know, but you should be
honest with yourself before you head out to create a new
success story. Is
it in you?
John Manley must be the guy in the audience that
laughs a minute after the punch line.
Our intrepid Industry Minister admitted today
that, yes Virginia, Canada does have a brain drain to
the US. It’s
about time one of these cabinet folks stuck their necks
out and stated the reality (the cynic says that he is
just trying to take his foot out of his mouth from the
NHL bail-out fiasco).
He went on to blame it on corporate taxes, not
reasoning was that opportunity was the main draw of the
US for technology folks, not tax avoidance.
A full-scale assault on corporate taxes is
the statement that Silicon Valley personal tax rates
were virtually the same as Ontario’s was a bit too
rates don’t kick in until $250,000 annual income in
California and at $60,000 in Ontario.
Capital gains taxes are about 15% different and
California law allows for you to re-invest the gains and
avoid tax. All
of this noise before the budget tells me that we are in
for some good news on Feb 29th.
My fingers are crossed.
As for Manley, is it just me, or were he and
Beaker (from the Muppets) separated at birth?
The announcement today that Itemus has been
created to roll up a bunch of incubators for technology,
including Vancouver’s Idea Park, was good news for
early stage venture capital.
Everybody and their brother had started an
incubator in the past year, after the success of idealab!
and garage.com in the US.
Seems like an easy concept.
Invest a small amount in very early but promising
companies and then put them in common space to share
resources and share guidance from experienced mentors.
The idea works well as long as there is a
plentiful supply of VC money to follow the incubation
period and give these companies the fuel they need to
really take off. In
some cases it is better to be in an incubator than to go
it alone with some angel money.
In some cases it isn’t.
When Itemus gets rolling, it will have larger
financial resources to offer the incubated companies and
can fund them even if traditional VCs are unwilling to
jump in. The
people that have started these incubators for the first
time are learning a very important lesson:
Very early stage investing is a LOT of work.
It is a daily battle.
One person I know that is involved in an
incubator said he might have been better off just
running a company himself.
In the incubator he is twice as busy and has less
of the upside (as a percentage of his ownership).
I’m not sure Itemus can solve that problem.
Regardless of the size of the incubator, the
sleeves of the experienced mentors need to be rolled up
and the tough work done.
Interestingly, some prominent incubators like
Launchworks in Calgary and Brightspark in Toronto are
not part of Itemus.
What Do You Think? Talk
Back To Brent Holliday
Something Ventured is a bi-weekly column designed
to supplement the T-Net British Columbia web site with
some timely, relevant and possibly irreverent insight
into the industry. I hope to share some of the
perspective and trends that I see in my role as a VC.
The column is always followed by feedback (if its
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