The “It” Factor in Start-Up Enterprises

Early in my career, I had the opportunity to work for a venture-funded start-up called Octel Communications. I’ve never worked so hard nor had more fun on the job as in those early days of the company’s history. So when I picked up Randy Komisar’s NY Times best-selling book – The Monk and the Riddle: The Art of Creating a Life While Making a Living – it felt like old home week.

entrepreneurKomisar was a successful entrepreneur who became a venture capitalist in 2005. His book follows the travails of would-be entrepreneurs as they work with Komisar to secure funding for their businesses. He starts with three fundamental questions that venture capitalists ask when business plans come across their desks:

  • Is the market for the product or service large enough to warrant investment?
  • Does the business plan outline the means through which this company can become the market leader?
  • Do the entrepreneurs have the knowledge, skills, experience, resources, connections, et al to execute the plan?

That being said, most MBAs have adequate training to craft business plans that address these issues. Astute venture capitalists look for something more – an “it” factor that transforms a good idea into a great company. As Komisar explains:

“Don’t confuse drive and passion. Drive pushes you forward. It’s a duty, an obligation. Passion pulls you. It’s the sense of connection you feel when the work you do expresses who you are. Only passion will get you through the tough times.”

“The chance to work on a big idea is a powerful reason for people to be passionate and committed… For people to be great, to accomplish the impossible, they need inspiration more than financial incentive.”

“Set the compass, then work hard to clear a path, knowing that you may meander as you stumble upon obstacles but will always keep heading toward the same coordinates.”

Citing his own company and business partner as an example: “Bill had an underlying faith that if we focused on the people issues, worked hard, and did a great job, the business would take care of itself… [Our customers] valued our products. Our partners respected and trusted us. Our employees were highly motivated and committed… There was an intense sense of loyalty and camaraderie.”

“Excellence is not simply the spoils that come with good fortune. It should be the primary measure of success.”

Komisar ends the book by asking his readers if they’re doing what they truly care about. He opted for a distinctive life journey that reflected his ideals and values. As he says:

“What was the sense of rushing down a beaten path with a map that I had cribbed from others? This was my trip, my life, and I needed my own journey. I decided to throw away the itinerary and see where this might lead.”

In case you’re wondering, Komisar offers up the back story for the intriguing title to his book. While it’s easy to paraphrase, I’d rather give you one more reason to check out the book yourself. It’s a worthwhile read.