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Citius, Altius, Fortius
A bi-weekly column with timely, relevant and possibly irreverent insight into the BC technology industry.

Something Ventured:
September 29th, 2000


By Brent Holliday

"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought well. " Baron de Corbetin, The Olympic Creed

Never afraid to lay a metaphor on too thick, I wanted to talk about entrepreneurs and what it takes to compete and win. I sat at the 2000 BC Entrepreneur Awards tonight, thanks to my good friend David Pais at Ernst & Young, and I was inspired to rehash a common subject: What makes an entrepreneur? I have done the standard checklist. Two years ago I told you what the ingredients might be for a successful entrepreneur. Traits like leadership, vision, tolerance of ambiguity, risk taker... all textbook stuff.

As I drove home, I thought about being an entrepreneur in a more fundamental light. When you strip away all of the generalizations, the entrepreneur, like the Olympic athlete, is driven by one basic need: The thrill of victory. There is an emotional high ground that is reachable only through achievement. That surge of joy. The unmitigated, "Yeeeesssssss" with optional fist pumping action. The tendency to ignore all decorum and hug the nearest stranger or high five everyone in the room. The beaming smile that doesn't go away for days. The warmth of satisfaction that you don't get anywhere else. Get your mind out of the gutter. I'm serious. Jimmy Pattison (an actual real live billionaire without a NASDAQ IPO) said it tonight in accepting his Lifetime Achievement Award, "I haven't found anything better to do than business." If you are an entrepreneur, you just said "Right On, Jimmy!" to the screen. If you're not, then you think Jimmy is one warped dude. I'm somewhere in between. I added, "other than golf".

I really believe that the common thread of entrepreneurs is that they are "peak emotion" junkies. In the quest to get their fix, they run through walls. They endure great hardship and long, long hours of preparation for those moments. This is why entrepreneurs are passionate people. This is why it may actually be true when you hear entrepreneurs say it is not for the money. The money is the medal. It's the trophy to show that you succeeded. The real goal is the ultra slow motion replay by CBC as you cross the finish line first or clear the highest bar or lift the largest weight.

Along the way to success, the entrepreneur has many highs. The first money raised. The first successful prototype or trial. The first paying customer. The first profitable month. Blowing the doors off the revenue expectations. The Entrepreneur of the Year. These are all reasons to get out of bed in the morning and all good reasons to celebrate. Each entrepreneur's market or industry has its equivalent of the Olympics, where the best will meet. This will play out over years and not in a ten second foot race. But the rush of meeting and exceeding expectations along the way is what drives the person.

The Olympic Creed is a nice way of saying winning isn't everything, it's playing the game that counts. Getting in game shape to be able to participate is an achievement, no question. But ask for a real honest opinion from and athlete or an entrepreneur and they will give you the standard Tiger Woods answer: "I'm here to win." Put another way, I'm here to do my best to get that winning feeling. And finishing fourth just doesn't cut it.

Not everyone feels this way. Only true entrepreneurs do. My sister won two bronze medals at the 1987 Pan Am Games in swimming. I have her picture taken at the exact moment she turned her head to see that she had won the bronze in the 400M freestyle. It is a peak moment that is captured forever by that photo. She described the athlete's village as the most incredible meeting of like minded people. She said everyone thrived on each other's energy. The place buzzed with excitement and even if you lost, the voyeuristic appeal of being close to those that won helped you feel better. You were able to enjoy their high, almost like you were family. That's the feeling I had tonight at the BC Entrepreneur Awards. We were in the athlete's village of BC's business builders. Jim Pattison in the same room as Julia Levy. David Sutcliffe, Ross Mitchell and Bill Hunter were some of the other tech entrepreneurs with that smile I talked about. I even saw Kevin Benson, ex-CEO of Canadian Airlines. Given his travails over the past few years, he might have been there to get some of that excess "high" oozing from the others. I'm not being schmaltzy here. I think we have a lot of confidence in the province right now and I really felt the energy tonight. Hell, we've had enough lows, let's celebrate the peaks!

When you watch the Olympics, you get to see the one-time performance. You miss the years of preparation and success in their own country that gets them to this level. Watching an entrepreneur win an award and thank all of his/her hardworking staff seems cliché. But the sacrifices are many. I heard once that the start-up entrepreneur needs at least two of the following things to keep their sanity: sleep, sex or cash flow. It's probably cash flow that helps you win.

Are you in the game to win? Do you thrive on the peak emotions and satisfaction that go along with achieving your goals? Then keep the flame burning.

Random Thoughts -

- Asinine Media Coverage Strikes Again - The National Post ran a front page story this week on the new Ottawa. The point of the story was that Ottawa was now a vibrant, youthful city because of the incredible growth of the technology community there. Unfortunately, the point was lost behind some mindless tabloid journalism better suited for Details or FHM magazine. The focus of the article was three twentysomethings who were more interested in what car they were driving and that their dogs were being puppy-sat for $50 a day. These ignoramuses sounded more like Howe Street scammers than cutting edge technology leaders. There was absolutely no insight from these dorks as to what is making Ottawa a success. I would much rather hear about the geniuses building companies than the guy who said that his friends will come to visit him now because they can "party from Friday to Monday morning". Don't get me wrong… I'm a big fan of work hard, play hard. But the article was over the top in sensationalizing the few who think that their lives would be complete if they could be just like Michael and Marlen Cowpland. I prefer substance over style, myself.

- Gloating Time - With Book4Golf.com at $1.90, I felt it was time to gloat. Exactly 6 months ago, I wrote about the ridiculous over-promotion of this start-up company by Yorkton. In doing so, I was pointing to an example of the frothiness of market that was about burst its dotcom bubble. At the end of the article I said let's see what happens 6 months hence. As you will recall, the company just completed a financing at $15 a share. Bet those investors are happy. The company actually did deliver its teetime reservation system this summer. But it will take a long time to build the consistent user base to gain meaningful revenues. If your investors are in it for the long haul, they will advise you to spend wisely now and expect tough times in the cycle of financing. I'm not sure, but getting Hootie and the Blowfish to play your party at the Golf Trade Show might not be a good use of funds if you expect the market to be slow in adopting your system. My guess is that these guys will blow their brains out, wildly overspending whatever they can raise in the next year. Some other company that is building their business in a smarter, longer-term focused manner will buy what's left of B4G's technology and create a winning company in this space.

Letters From Last Week -

I had a verbal letter to the editor delivered to me regarding the last column where I talked of gloom and doom in the venture community. To paraphrase:

Brent,

I think you were a little too alarmist with the predictions of VCs with closed doors. There are certain sectors where people understand that business models are not working and there is no money available. But Canada, especially Vancouver, is experiencing a large surge in VC activity. This was borne out by the Q2 VC investment numbers released yesterday that showed 80% + increase in funding over Q2 1999. Things have never been better for wireless, optical networking and other infrastructure companies.

Sam Znaimer
Ventures West

As I said to Sam, I fundamentally agree that the technology boom has not subsided. I also agree that Vancouver and the rest of Canada are in a renaissance period in the economy where technology companies are starting to dominate. I re-read the column and have to say that I may have sounded like Chicken Little a bit. But the reason that many VCs (moreso in the US) are reluctant to do financing is that they have stinking dotcom or B2B exchange carcasses that they have to bury or resurrect. Overall, even with the activity we are seeing here in Vancouver, the pace of investment will slow through Q3 and Q4 and then pick up again. It's not the end of the world, it's just a little breather after one hell of run.

I hope I paraphrased correctly or I will get another letter next time...


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 positive or constructive. I'll keep the flames to myself, thanks).

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