The Brokovich effect; energetic amateurs making a difference

November 11th, 2011 → 8:39 am @

We all love stories of people with boundless energy who take on the established order, triumphing against the odds.  The story of Erin Brokovich stirred us because she was such a person, and it reinforced the notion that you can start off knowing little, learn as you go, and win your day in court.

That same enthusiasm for the untrained, naive underdog pervades the business start-up industry.  It’s somehow more thrilling to see a high-school dropout doing well than to see a person with a business degree and ten years industry experience succeeding. That’s natural because all good sagas include overcoming adversity as part of the story… the bigger the adversity, the better the story.

But I don’t build companies to create epic stories.  I’d rather see my companies march to success on predictable paths, with highly skilled and experienced teams.  There’s plenty of drama in the process of starting a business, and I don’t seek out more.

When I look at the successful start-ups I’ve been involved with, the most successful all had experienced teams, and usually had experienced founders.  The failures were overweighted with naivete and lack of technical or business qualification.

One founder  explained very carefully to me why youth was a primary requirement in his Games development company.  He said they were more creative, and weren’t constrained by the way things had been done before.  I think he’d been watching too many televised sagas about untrained business founders; stories which often ignored the boringly experienced people who provided the ‘engine room’ of the company.  He went broke… but I guess he gained some experience at his investors’ expense!  So, much as I enjoy the Brokovich effect in stories, I’ll continue to stack my companies with as many experienced team members as possible.   Not great TV, but good for the bank balance.

Entrepreneurship &Start ups