Sometimes, an investor gets lucky. They invest in a company with an idea that doesn't go anywhere, the company pivots, and you wind up in the next big thing.
In hindsight, an investor will tell you that they knew they had backed a great team and that was the key to the investment. It's never luck.
I have a lot of trouble with the "great team" scenario, because it just doesn't seem to play out in real life. What about when a company clearly makes a stupid acquisition? When they spend hundreds of millions to buy you only to turn off your product and shut it off later, were you a great team, but you wouldn't have been a great team if you ran out of money two weeks earlier?
Is greatness innate? Are you born to be an entrepreneur?
Why don't all the people who have "great" entrepreneurial qualities succeed? Wouldn't there be some test you could give all first time entrepreneurs to gage their entrepreneurial prowess to understand how good they'll be at running a company?
It feels like a lot of hocus pocus half the time--where we mistake agressiveness and ambition for qualities of good management in startups. Maybe that's why half the time it seems that entrepreneurs are getting in trouble these days--because investors aren't as good as we think they are at funding the kind of people you want to back.
Adam D'Augelli, a very smart investor over at True Ventures, mentioned to me the other day something that rang true--that the best entrepreneurs update their investors with metrics, not stories. That made a lot of sense to me, but what also led from that was the idea that watching metrics was a habit, not something you're born with. It's something that anyone can get into the habit of doing. Knowing your metrics and following them is a discipline and being disciplined is really what being a manager is all about. Do you create processes that bring the right people to your company? Do you create processes that allow them to communicate well with each other and execute? The thing that makes a team more than just a collection of individuals is a system.
The best entrepreneurs I've worked with have great habits and they create great habits in their companies. They have a way to do just about everything--including how they go about learning what they don't know. Good learning habits are key to success, because no one is born knowing everything.
I like this habit model of great entrepreneurs because it means anyone can get their given determination and discipline. It makes greatness accessable.
It's the same with culture. Culture isn't innate to a company--it's a series of habits and practices. It derives from conscious language choices when you hear from management both in public and private--from where incentives are placed, and related to how much emphasize is put on values, communication, and mutual respect. It doesn't just happen. It's a habitual practice.
It's very similar to my own experience with running.
When you're younger, so much of your physical ability derives from the randomness of who sprouts up earlier, who was born just before the cutoff and happens to be almost a year older than everyone, etc. Over time, those advantages disappear as the playing field evens out. Your ability to be a good runner at the recreational level, as you get older, has more to do with your diet and exercise routine than it has anything to do with genetics. In the top 1%, that might not hold, but I'm routinely finishing around the top 5% of my races these days without ever having been anything in the realm of being a top athlete when I was younger. I'm just a lot more disciplined than a lot of my 30-something peers these days, and that's a big advantage.
Greatness is a practice that anyone can achieve. I like it better that way.