I read an interesting article the other week about older versus younger entrepreneurs. One specific sentence in the article got me thinking.
“Furthermore, and less tangibly, older workers are more likely to have the management experience necessary to set up a company and keep it running.”
So that begs the question… is “management experience” really nothing but upside? It seems quite frequently the venture capital investment community pulls middle-managers from the likes of GE or one of the various tech titans to take over the reins of an entrepreneurial start-up with the assumption that “management experience” will make the likelihood of success that much higher and more than offset the loss of passion and vision that often accompanies replacing the founder.
While I value experience more and more every day (as I get more of it myself), I think there is at least one pitfall with experience that can hold the entrepreneurial spirit back. This pitfall is best characterized by the old adage: “The problem isn’t what you don’t know; it is what you know that isn’t so.”
The pitfall is what I call the “that’s already been done” trap. People who have been around for quite some time (often those with “management experience”) have typically seen so many business ideas and so many companies that it takes something “totally new” for them to think it has potential. The problem with the world in 2011 is that there isn’t that much new under the sun. Most entrepreneurial activity centers on reinventing something that already exists in some form versus pioneering an entirely new product or service category of which no one on planet Earth has even conceived.
The best anecdote I have to illustrate this is a conversation I had with the past CEO of a company in the “support” field. The company started in the late 90’s with lots of technology around “support” in general. I asked if their technology ever had any type of remote control or remote access capabilities and his answer was, “We built everything else EXCEPT that… we figured THAT market had ‘already been done’ and thus we never pursued it.” The reality is that every current player in the remote support market started AFTER this company determined it had “already been done.” The success of many of the players in the remote control and remote access markets (and the relative challenges in a number of the surrounding markets) points to what I believe was a great opportunity that they chose to let pass. It was a downside of experience and knowledge.
In May of 2003 when I graduated from college, the remote support market looked “wide open” to my inexperienced eyes. I was 23 years old and the products I saw in use didn’t meet my needs, and they didn’t look like they met the needs of the marketplace either. I didn’t have the experience to know that I shouldn’t start a company since the remote support market had “already been done,” so I developed and launched a product that I thought was better and different than the other stuff out there. Now with Bomgar Corporation having grown to more than 150 employees and $32M in annual revenue, I’m glad I didn’t pass on this market. It is never too late to completely reinvent a market that everyone else thinks has “already been done.” On that note, I’ll close with a few quotes from Henry Ford that seem relevant to this general topic:
“I am looking for a lot of men who have an infinite capacity to not know what can't be done.” - Henry Ford
“As we advance in life we learn the limits of our abilities.”- Henry Ford
“If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right.” - Henry Ford