On Entrepreneurial Success

I had breakfast last week with Steve Blank and Dino Vendetti. The three of us love talkin’ startups, and we ended up in a discussion about the whole history of entrepreneurship in America. Steve immediately honed in on one of his favorite observations: popular mythology holds that the great entrepreneurs in history were brilliant innovators, when the reality is that more often it’s that they were brilliant at the hard work of commercializing innovations.

He gave the two famous tech startup examples – with Apple, Steve Wozniak was the inventor, but it was Steve Jobs who understood how to commercialize the innovation. With Microsoft, it was Paul Allen who was the technologist, but Bill Gates who had the drive to commercialize OS software. So the history books list Steve Jobs and Bill Gates as the “great entrepreneurs,” even though their part of Apple and Microsoft was actually on the business side, not the engineering/innovation side.

Going back a few years, Henry Ford didn’t invent the car, but his mass-production strategies are what turned the personal auto into a commercial success. And Ray Kroc didn’t invent the hamburger, but he certainly successfully scaled the concept across the world.

These four names – Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Henry Ford, and Ray Kroc – are synonymous with the history of American entrepreneurship, yet their roles in the founding of Apple, Microsoft, Ford, and McDonald’s were ones of execution, not innovation.

In my career, I’ve seen that entrepreneurial success is usually just boring, heads-down hard work. As Thomas Edison (arguably the greatest of all American entrepreneurs) famously said, "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration."

All of which leads me to our internal motto at Tivix: “Work Hard. Don’t Flake. Get Shit Done.”

I’d like to think that Mr. Edison would be proud.