I was recently invited by a local bank to attend a talk for SME leaders. Among the panel members was a successful Silicon Valley venture capitalist who was asked to share what he uses as his criteria for backing a budding entrepreneur. What he shared surprised me. I was expecting some complicated formula – after all, we are talking about putting up money here – but his formula was simple and direct. He uses the acronym PACK – Passion, Ambition, Courage and Knowledge. He says that if the entrepreneur can demonstrate all four ingredients, he possesses the secret sauce for success. So in this article, I shall unpack (pun intended) PACK.
We all acknowledge the impact of passion. Passion comes not from your marketing materials, but from the way you talk about your customers, how your solutions impact them, and the lengths you would go to to meet their needs. Passion is primarily shown up in your actions, like what you have done to advance your solutions to your customers, and how much you would personally underwrite to make your solutions available to your customers. Through passion, an entrepreneur can overcome seemingly insurmountable hurdles. Through passion, an entrepreneur can sacrifice personal comforts to meet the bigger goal. Through passion, an entrepreneur can influence others to join in his quest. Passion, therefore, is a very important ingredient for the secret sauce to entrepreneurial success!
For entrepreneurial success, both passion and ambition are required. While passion fuels action, ambition points the way. Without ambition, passion would dissipate quite quickly. There is a need to channel the passion to meet a very large goal. This is what Jim Collins calls BHAG – our Big Hairy Audacious Goal. And as they say, if your goals don’t scare you, they’re not big enough. Ambition, therefore, needs to be so big that it is part energizing, and part scary. This allows us to operate at the tipping point; that part of business operations which stands on the edge of failure; that part that produces greatest output with the least of input; that part that propels businesses at stunning speeds. So if you didn’t have the ambition, you wouldn’t have far to go, and that wouldn’t make you a successful entrepreneur – not to the venture capitalists, anyway.
Alexander Pope wrote in 1709, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Yet, Virgil wrote much earlier, “Fortune favours the bold.” There is therefore a thin line between foolishness and courageousness. Courage is the secret sauce of successful entrepreneurs because it allows action despite fear. It allows entrepreneurs to take that leap of faith where none exists. In a sense, it allows entrepreneurs to rush in where angels fear to tread. And who are these angels? I would put them as the cautious, rule-hugging, data-driving leaders who need proof before they do something. They must almost be 100% sure that they will come up on top before moving in on a plan. Yet, by the time we were 100% sure, someone else would already be sitting on the pile of success meant for you! Courage allows the entrepreneur to dive in with incomplete information, understanding that the market is the best place to test an idea. Courage is, therefore, an essential ingredient of the secret sauce of success.
Just in case anyone thinks that successful entrepreneurs work on half-baked ideas in a cocoon of self-denial, this last ingredient proves that this is furthest from the truth! Knowledge is a key element of entrepreneurial success, and this is obtained from careful research, identifying white-spaces, creating hypotheses and market-testing them. Successful entrepreneurs use sources of information from the deep recesses of the market to uncover gems of white space that is not occupied by other businesses. They then proceed to identify the needs of the customers within that space, unlocking solutions and the execution needed to bring those to market. They then look for ways to scale up these operations so that unit costs can come down. Finally, they seek ways to protect their market and their solutions, either by legal, financial, or operational means. Knowledge of doing business and applying business acumen are therefore the last ingredient for the secret sauce of entrepreneurial success!
While it seems simple, PACK is packed full of business-success gems. True, there may have been many business owners who embodied PACK and still failed. Yet, without PACK, the prognosis is terminal. So it is time to pack it in and build your PACK to success!
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