Article originally published on HuffPost.
Victor missed our second interview call Friday afternoon following his talk at FCM. But at around five, three hours after I’d left two messages on this cell—one from Google Hangouts and one from my cell (in case he wasn’t keen on answering calls from restricted numbers)—he called back and left me a surprisingly sincere-sounding apology. Apparently, some respiratory thing that had been brewing before and during his talk at Friday Coffee had hit him full force and put him down for the count the rest of the day.
I say Victor’s message was “surprisingly” sincere not because during our original interview he’d given me the impression of being the typical fast-talking idea guy whose interview no-show was an indication he’d lost interest in the interview process and would not be calling back—he hadn’t given me that impression at all. The sincerity took me off guard because, when you’re accustomed to interviewing successful, busy people, you just don’t expect that kind of inordinate prudence. The flaking on the call? Expected, understood, no offense taken. But the consideration? Interesting.
He’s not an entrepreneur. At least, that’s what he says (and what all the most entrepreneurial folks I talk with tend to say to me when I describe them as “entrepreneurs”). He says he’s just a guy who likes interesting ideas, trying new things and solving problems. I want to think that he also must be a guy who enjoys enduring chalk-dust torture on some level because, after all, one could not graduate from Dartmouth and Columbia Law without at least sort of enjoying that kind of pain. But, no. For him, business law “just seemed interesting,” and so he learned it.
He is a lawyer-turned-CEO. Lucky for a string of growing startups over the past 15+ years, though, business law wasn’t quite interesting enough for Victor the Non-Entrepreneur, who has gone on to help bring the value of several companies from the little millions up into the hundreds of millions. His crossover to the other side began when a San Francisco-based startup, who was a then-client of the East Coast corporate law firm where he worked, asked Victor to come on as VP of Business Development and legal counsel.
My four conclusions about entrepreneurial thinkers are based, in part, on Victor’s talk, which was titled, “How the Hell Did a Lawyer Become CEO of a Public Software Company,” and, in part, on our interview. Talking with him confirmed, for me, the existence of a few traits I’ve noticed in these types of folks over the course of my growing interest in the topic of entrepreneurialism. That said, here you have it.
The most important thing Victor pointed out was that there is such a thing as “entrepreneurial thinkers” in the first place. We tend to see entrepreneurialism as synonymous with starting companies. While that is a valid—and potentially valuable—path, innovation can also happen inside a company through the execution of ideas to solve problems or make things better. Victor said, “Innovation can—and most often does—happen from right where you’re sitting as an employee.” The entrepreneurial thinker is driven by a desire to fix and improve things—to do it better or faster. And this core motivation leads us to trait #2.
I asked Victor what he initially hoped to achieve by following through with the idea that ended up pushing his software company forward. He said, “I know this sounds corny, but I just thought the idea sounded cool. I saw this need people had, and I felt like I had an idea that would meet that need. I liked the thought of solving a problem. I just did it because I thought it was a good idea.”
Yep. Sounds corny. But, after meeting him, and considering the other entrepreneurial people I know, I believe it’s true. Plus, I Googled it. The query “entrepreneurs and money” delivers loads of results exploring the burning question, Why don’t the greatest entrepreneurs care about money? Famed old-timer Cornelius Vanderbilt put it well: “I don’t care half so much about making money as I do about making my point and coming out ahead.”
And it seems that this has something to do with why…
I know this seems counterintuitive. After all, what role could a trusting spirit possibly play in the world of business, right? Well, as it turns out, those people with the strongest tendency toward trust play the greatest role in the innovation that makes the business world go around.
An innovator’s trust level seems to be evident in which of the two innovator types he is: Type 1, or, the Ask-Permission-to-Move-Forward-First Guy, or Type 2, the Do-It-Now-and-Apologize-Later Guy. I discovered the latter type a couple of years ago when I started working for Mike Schaffer, FCM organizer and CEO of Echo-Factory ad agency. A few minutes into my first interview with Victor, it began to occur to me that he was, indeed, of the apologize-later variety, but he hadn’t got around to labeling the method to his madness quite yet. So I helped him out.
I told him about the first time I’d asked Mike for direction on some trouble I was having doing outreach for a big client. Mike had said, “Do what you think is best; you can apologize later,” a statement that became my introduction to the fantastic world of working for not just your garden-variety entrepreneur, but for an entrepreneurial thinker.
“Yes!” Victor said. “Exactly. You’ve got to trust yourself that it’s worth the risk and trust your team that they’ll understand that failure can be part of the process.”
Victor told me that he was thrown at the FCM talk when an audience member asked him about his plan of action in the event the software company that benefitted from his idea were to take advantage of him, taking the idea and sharing no benefit with him. He said, “It was right then that it occurred to me that I’d never given a second thought to what I’d do if that happened. I mean, I suppose you just have to trust the people you’re working for. Why would you work for people you don’t trust in the first place?”
By chill, I don’t mean they like to lay on the couch binging on bonbons and Netflix every day. But rather, innovative thinkers don’t get ruffled easily, and they’re empowered by possibilities. And Victor’s actually the one who used the word delusional: “In some respects, [innovative thinkers] tend to be delusionally self-confident. It’s hard to pursue something innovative when you’re racked with doubt.”
In business, in writing, in life—I agree without a doubt. Oh, and one more thing I forgot to mention: Entrepreneurial thinkers will always have an excellent excuse for missing your phone call.
Interested to learn more? Check out Friday Coffee Meetup.