A little interesting story from the BusinessWeek blog. Outspoken pitching great Curt Schilling recently joined a Harvard business class to help him cultivate a plan for his new gaming company. Thus far, there are no plans for the company to sell bloody socks (though it may be an underrated niche):
My favorite line for the day was when, during the Q&A session at the end, Schilling started off by confessing, "After one year at a junior college and a 23 year in professional baseball, it cost me nearly $30 million to get to Harvard." The comment was in reference to the fact that Schilling has been funding 38 Studios almost entirely out of his own pocket. Many VCs turned him down when he first launched the company in 2006 and 2007 (including me, which is the subject of a funny story, where a VC buddy of mine and I ended up having dinner with Schilling alongside our then 7 year old sons in Fort Meyers, FL in 2007 while he was in the midst of Spring Training, but that’s another story for another day).
Putting aside celebrity and baseball, the case has two pedagogical lessons:
Entrepreneurs who have been successful in one field and have developed a "blueprint" for what it takes to be successful, can sometimes struggle to translate that blueprint into a new field. Therefore, they should be thoughtful about what skills and habits they should adapt to develop a new blueprint that suits the new field. I have been through this myself personally when, after being an enterprise software entrepreneur at early e-commerce leader Open Market in the 1990s, I embarked on becoming a consumer Internet entrepreneur at Upromise and had to learn a whole new blueprint (never mind learn the VC blueprint I find myself still adapting to since I made that conversion seven years ago!).
Harnessing and containing strong, visionary founders is a tricky endeavor, but there are some useful techniques that can be applied to improve the chances of success. Some of the students had worked with Jeff Bezos, Michael Dell, and other larger-than-life founders, and shared their related challenges and lessons learned in those environments. In many situations, the founder is a creative force of nature rather than an experienced operating manager, and skillfully managing the tension between those two essential ingredients can make or break a start-up.