Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Rise of the New Entrepreneurs

a conversation with rachel minard

about the age of meaning, proof and authenticity

CG: You see the world entering a new and important entrepreneurial age, different from what we experienced before.

RM: Yes. A classic definition of entrepreneur is someone with a new business idea willing to accept commercial risk for profit. And being entrepreneurial has been, to most of us, a cocktail of smart ideas, naïveté and fierce determination. Now it’s more akin to the definition of a hedge fund, which (misperceptions aside) is about “unconstrained active management.” About developing and challenging ideas holistically, and evaluating all the permutations of risk and reward.

Most of the entrepreneurs behind resilient businesses in the last few years started by envisioning the entire opportunity, then laying the groundwork, then taking all the pragmatic steps to realize it.

Their business objectives, while infused with passion and conviction, were based on much more: on hard realities: they studied the fortitude of the markets they were targeting, and all the impediments. Becoming famous or making a lot of money was just a possible luxury, and secondary. While seeing the path forward clearly, and having the resources and resourcefulness to travel down it was the necessity, and primary.

This defines an emerging new breed of entrepreneurs. Those looking holistically and presciently at the environment their ideas will germinate in. Making sure they are the right and most conducive environments. And, identifying and understanding the multitude and interplay of macroeconomic forces and external risks that might dilute or derail their vision or venture.

CG: So how do they create something that can be monetized and sustained?

RM: By doing a lot of research, to fully understand everything necessary to not just start but also fully sustain a business. By being acutely mindful about the operational, market, headline and investment risks. By seeing the entire landscape – and by not backing down or away from an idea and conviction that’s valid and well supported.

CG: What about the role entrepreneurs have played in building large enterprises, like Bill Gates did with Microsoft, or Steve Jobs did with Apple?

RM: Apple’s advertisement years ago forever changed the industry: Think Different. Steve Jobs made a difference in the world. He created a brand and product around the geeks, outliers, artists, creatives, knowing it was this group that would reshape the world. He made a thoughtful tool for them; which also made the world closer, and made personal computing technology more accessible and less intimidating for millions of people.

CG: Would we all be better served by smaller, nimbler, and truly entrepreneurial companies?

RM: Yes. Eventually, we won’t even need the giants. If you spend any time in San Francisco, you know about Alice Waters and her Edible Schoolyard,and her local cooking movement that gives people incentives to produce healthy organic food locally, to sustain those in the neighboring area. It works wonderfully.

But look at any high tech, high touch company. You’ll be hard pressed to find any that are massive. Quite the contrary. They have an intimacy big companies don’t. And a level of quality, passion, attention and adaptability, that few if any very large companies truly possess, let alone could sustain.

Still, we’re witnessing huge consolidation; many companies getting bigger, more powerful and less conquerable. There’s a widening divide between the boutique and the monolithic, the Davids and Goliaths, and it will be interesting to see if and what each learns from the other. I’d like to hear what your readers think about this.

CG: What’s behind the rise of these new entrepreneurs and new style of entrepreneuring?

RM: A deep desire for meaning and authenticity. After the crash of 2008, including the Madoff scandal, an authenticity movement of a kind emerged, a drive to re-find the authentic and meaningful in business. New-style entrepreneurs began in earnest here, and started showing how to achieve this and be honest, clear, transparent, accessible and good partners in the process.

CG: If you had to name the business age we’re entering right now, what would it be?

RM: The Age of Meaning, Proof and Authenticity. In the past, you could largely succeed on reputation, image, pedigree, even performance. That’s not enough any more. Now you have to prove substance and sustainability across the board. From having a clear business vision and a structure that can support and advance it, to creating true and needed value. You’re not selling pet rocks anymore; not selling concepts. You have to prove you have a meaningful solution, and show you can not only deliver it but also keep delivering it.

CG: Are these newly-emerging entrepreneurs going to become our heroes?

RM: They are, but in clusters not solo. Most of the great entrepreneurial stories of the past were about one person or one big idea. Going into the future they’ll be based on a lot of teamwork and a rich exchange of ideas. You see it at TED, and at hedge fund industry events. I see it there, and also as a board member of various organizations. It’s forming constellations of ideas and talent with common goals. Why? Because it’s too costly to go it alone in this market. And because there’s no capital to back a great idea unless the monetization of the idea is established and vetted, and factor modeling maps out exactly what’s achievable.

CG: So it’s not the solo achievers to look to for inspiration, but groups of collaborators?

RM: Yes. Farewell to the narcissism of the nineties and early part of 2000. These entrepreneurial clusters, this actively collaborative model of entrepreneuring, are forming in many areas, from biotechnology to global warming. Niche talent is coming together in highly-focused groups, sharing thinking and resources and creating extremely meaningful and sustainable long-term businesses. Of course, there are still individual thought leaders and visionaries out there, but delivering on a big promise now involves much more than “two geeks and a Gateway” with a great idea.

CG: How do those of us who want to work as or with these kinds of collaborators succeed?

RM: You need an incredibly clear and meaningful vision. You need to figure out how to realize it sustainably (including who best to join hands with). And you need to be authentic: you cannot succeed without being genuine, regardless of the worth of your idea or the image of your brand.

CG: Is the business world becoming more thoughtful now? What about our financial bubbles and excesses? Paul Hawken says “At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product…We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation.”

RM: 2009 taught us a great deal. Some call it the last 20 Years of a Ponzi Economy, when we lived off credit – which we did. Well that party is over, and the bills have to be paid – though no one has the cash to pay them. We have to be far more thoughtful now.

Fortunately, our new entrepreneurs are going to lead the way with original thought and passion combined with wiser approaches to constructing and running businesses. They will change the landscape. They’re beginning to already.

CG: I’d like to expand your point here, about building and running businesses in wiser ways. To include being more authentic and meaningful (on and below the surface) in the stories we as enlightened or evolved entrepreneurs shape and tell the world about our businesses. A subject I often write and talk about, and work with companies of all kinds to seek and achieve in their marketing and communications.

CG: And speaking of communication, how is it changing in this new Age of Meaning?

RM: We communicate now as a society more than ever before. This revolution has enabled more people to express themselves; articulate their ideas; and connect with each other more easily and widely. But the key is managing and making sense of all these communications, and prioritizing them, in order to solve problems well and efficiently…and to build business relationships that have real meaning and purpose.

CG: What about finding time and space for reflection?

RM: I know some companies that encourage daydreaming. Including Google, 3M and Gore-Tex. There’s no question: we must make room for original, meaningful thinking in our work and personal lives.

We also need to find opportunities to connect with like-minded people, and really talk. It’s the fundamental way we gain insights, and arrive at creative solutions to problems and opportunities.

CG: Where do you see examples of this in action?

RM: More than anywhere, I’d say in the movies. Influential ones like The Road or The Hurt Locker or Jane Campion’s Bright Star. They all have to do with some form of hope; with coming together to solve some universal need or problem. They also have lead characters with deep authenticity.

When you step back, you see that what worked for the last 20 years in business doesn’t work now. Sales for example is no longer about selling but about empathy and educating, engagement and partnering. The old approaches have given way to new starting points for discussion, for truthful, useful discussion and exploration.

CG: Thank you, Rachel.

Colin Goedecke is a strategic story developer and high-level interviewer, with a 24-year history helping leading and emerging companies worldwide platform and tell their marketing stories. The Rise of the New Entrepreneurs is the 20th in a series of thought pieces to help us think, act and communicate in wiser ways. Others can be found at

Rachel S.L. Minard is a Partner and Managing Director of Optima Fund Management, and an active industry orchestrator and thought leader. She has been building and raising assets globally for hedge fund-of-funds firms for the past 18 years, and is based in San Francisco.

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