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June 7, 2013

Entrepreneurs, Do You Want Control or Success?

What makes a successful entrepreneur?

In my world of life sciences executive search, I’ve seen a very large sample of founding CEOs. Some made it and some didn’t. What separates them?

That’s a complex question that can’t be answered in a 300-word blog post. But one highly accurate predictor an entrepreneur will fail is an obsession with retaining control. These entrepreneurs—let’s use the hackneyed phrase and call them the control freaks—are deathly afraid of ceding control of any aspect of their businesses.

They avoid “smart money.” Those are the VCs and Angels who have knowledge and connections that can significantly accelerate a startup. Control freaks don’t want their advice—they aren’t happy unless they get to push all of the buttons themselves. They’d rather raise money from Uncle Joe, or an endless series of grants that come with no strings attached. They end up chronically undercapitalized.

They don’t like to hire people with strong opinions, either. As a result, they end up with a team of minor leaguers that’s underpowered and unable to move the company forward. On the rare occasion when they land a top executive, she departs quickly upon realizing the CEO doesn’t want to hear her opinions or utilize her expertise.

Companies run by control freaks usually die quickly. A few hang on like zombies, subsisting on grants or meager revenues.

Now contrast the control freaks with the entrepreneurs who focus on success. You could call them the success freaks. They actively court investors who have expertise that can help them. They hire people who are better than they are. They’re committed to constantly learning, and they actively solicit advice and feedback from their investors, mentors, and employees.

And therein lies a paradox: The entrepreneurs who focus on success are the ones who most frequently retain control.

As Master Po might have said to Kwai Chang Caine, “Grasshopper, if you want control you must forget about control.” (Sorry youngsters, you might have to look that reference up.)

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