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2.11 – The Right Stuff

An Ultimate Learning Experience

Every new venture is a humbling, scary, and intensely fulfilling learning experience.  It is an entirely learner-driven journey.  And, almost by definition, there are no textbooks available to guide your way.

Educators know that the quality of any learning experience is enhanced by the quality of the people involved.   So the entrepreneur’s best strategy is to find the very best team members, partners and advisors.   Not just at the conception and birth of the venture, but at every moment of its growth and evolution.   Great entrepreneurs are constantly enhancing their personal and professional networks.  Every effort should be made to get smart people to commit themselves to your venture.   Such people can populate your staff, board of directors, advisory boards, shareholders and other structures that concentrate intelligence.

The only qualifying recommendation is to make sure that every person you rely on has “skin in the game”.   In both the for-profit and not-for-profit worlds it isn’t hard to find exceptional people who will want to get involved, and will act as consultants or representatives in order to derive benefit without sharing the risk, and without being motivated primarily by the success of the venture.  If you can’t find truly great people who will participate purely for the ‘upside’ potentials, perhaps you need to look at your value proposition again.

Use the web to take a look at members of the executive team, board of directors, advisory boards, etc, of some prominent learning technology companies (e.g. Blackboard, Skillsoft, eCollege). Take a look at their biographies to get a sense of the value they bring to the company.

The final lesson – a very tough one for most entrepreneurs – about a venture’s requirement for great people is that entrepreneurs seldom grow with their companies.   There are high-profile examples, like Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) who start a company with zero experience and ride their meteoric venture right to the top, but they are relatively rare.  More commonly those very smart people you invited to be your board of directors, tasked with accelerating the success of the venture, will eventually arrive at a decision that your start-up skills are no longer the best match for growth needs of the venture, and they will seek a great growth guru to replace you.

So just as great inventors are seldom great entrepreneurs, great entrepreneurs are seldom great CEOs.  A personal exit strategy should always be in mind.  The separate phases of a venture’s lifespan can create humbling moments of the learning experience when pride and ego are allowed to obscure an objective focus on venture success.

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