Inflective Havoc
Reflections on Our Big Entrepreneurial Times from Jan Horsfall

Entrepreneurial Reverb

I’ve been blown away by the new entrepreneurial winds which are blowing through our economy – and I really see the impact locally and nationally as I interact with my entrepreneurial brethren. While the mad mass media continues to genuflect over the Occupy Protests (is there really anything ‘there’ there?), it seems to have added to our general annoyance with things which suggest our lives are terrible and the only thing that can fix this media-fed melancholy is more response from government.

Over the past few years as the recession threw its burly weight around I’ve watched more and more conversation about the role of government in our entrepreneurial activities.

  • What should government do for us?
  • How can they help our young companies who are dying for resources and assistance?
  • Isn’t there more that our government officials can do for our newcos?
  • Wherefore art thou Romeo?

It seems to me that what little time we have as entrepreneurs to contemplate these things eventually turns to useless ash when we actually try to get our government entities to even understand the questions, let alone the answers.

I’ve come to one conclusion: quit worrying about government and quit waiting for government. For anything. At all. Don’t waste the gas. 

Entrepreneurs are by nature the most ostentatious doers in our society. They lay it all on the line. They love to revolutionize things around them. They understand and believe that risk is the sweetener of life. Which is why virtually every government representative I’ve ever spent time with – at any and all levels – simply doesn’t know where to begin. They don’t understand the basic premise of being an entrepreneur or where the risk really lies as we try to break out and add value to our fledgling ideas. They don’t understand the questions, let alone the answers.

I once was lobbying in Washington, D. C. with my colleague and agency maven, Dan Gallagher, on behalf of Gemini Voice Solutions, to keep the RBOCs from pushing for taxation of early-stage VoIP companies like ours. It was really a simple premise: don’t tax us until we’re big enough to actually breed the new-age voice technology for the masses (don’t kill off innovation). The span between ‘simple premise’ to an entrepreneur and ‘understanding and reaction’ to a U.S. Representative is literally a dark abyss.

Think about wonkishness, and then think about the language of an entrepreneur: radical idea; proof of concept; pro forma; term sheet; ramp up; angels; venture capital; inflection points; unlocking value; exiting.

Unless you’re Solyndra selling to dumb investors, the only reaction one can hope for is a murkish understanding of the ask and a wishful hope for the reaction. It’s the best you can expect.

Which is why I’m suggesting quit expecting anything at all. 

Dick Armey, the former Speaker of the House, turned to me during one of these sessions to ask me how VoIP worked. I explained how the call went over the cloud instead of the a legacy circuit-switched piece of outdated machinery – all made real by broadband into the house.

Dick:             “Yeah, my wife has that LSD.”

Moi:              “Excuse me?”

Dick:             “LSD.”

(Uncomfortable pause).

Dick:             “You know – for faster internet speeds.”

Moi:              “Ah. You must mean DSL.”

Dick:            “Yes! My wife has that DSL!”

Like I said, quit expecting anything at all.

I’ve watched entrepreneurs fight like the hunters to get to market and more often than I like to recount, they eventually start asking – and grumbling – about government help. I always tell them the same thing, “Don’t waste your time – not another second – wishing for government to do a thing. Spend that precious time looking at the other variables you have to deal with that really matter. Government is a grandiose waste of time when it comes to your small business. They don’t understand you and they can’t help. So understand where they put the tacks down on the road, drive around them, and then stomp on it.”

I’m fond of the saying that entrepreneurs eat what they kill. It’s euphemistically so true. When they waste their time chasing game which really isn’t valid, they miss out on the opportunity to shoot things that matter.

So when I watch the media continue to point to government as both the source of our problems and the solution to our issues, I shake my head a little – and then get back to work.

Which brings me to why I love our new entrepreneurial-lead entity, Startup Colorado. Essentially Startup Colorado is the place to go for any Colorado entrepreneur in the various early stages of their company’s gestation period in order to find the nearby resources they need to crank up their business or idea. We’re appreciative that a two-hour drive isn’t a barrier to entrepreneurs, so we’re going to identify assets from Colorado Springs to Denver to Boulder to Fort Collins – the ‘corridor’ if you will. Then a newco can get plugged into this denser network of real assets – not bureaucratic or faux assets – and lock and load as they ramp. You don’t need to be held hostage to a narrow mindset, but rather all of the great thinking that runs up and down the Front Range from other entrepreneurs who do understand you and what you need.

For Colorado Springs – and other cities cooperating within this new ecosystem – the benefits are huge. First, we can copy best practices from the overall Front Range and put them to work here. You’re already seeing that in our monthly 5-Minute Pitch Nights (available on Meetup) – they’re electrifying and they’re not filled up with elitists, bureaucrats or non-doers, rather they’re buzzing with a room full of entrepreneurial doers. Robert Reich, who runs the Boulder versions, downloaded everything he had learned over five years so that we didn’t have to hit the same guard rails. They have 400+ people at each monthly pitch night. We’ve gone from 15 people to over 75 people at our last version using the lessons he generously provided. More important than the numbers is the fact that we’re pulling all of the great entrepreneurs out of the woodwork. We like to suggest from on high (I heard Governor Hickenlooper make this very statement a few weeks ago) that “these tech entrepreneurs aren’t really here in Colorado,” when the reality is that they’re here in droves. Unfortunately all of the state and city’s endless research projects, commissions and agencies aren’t in a position to bring them together or even understand what to do next with them. Startup Colorado helps greatly in that regard because it’s run by the same type of people it’s trying to help. And by nature we get shit done.

I’ve been a part of some of the largest entrepreneurial communities in Boston, New York (from which our family relocated) and Silicon Valley. The one thing that drives these ideation centers is a positive, inclusive, knowledgeable support structure integrated in with the entrepreneur community (angel investors, venture capital funds, incubators, accelerators, universities, service providers, etal). Colorado is a nicer place to live – no doubt – but we can supercharge that fact by really committing ourselves as individuals to helping in the effort to make the business climate work for these new companies.

So they can use that time they save not worrying about government to worry about the things that really matter.

– Jan


2 Responses to “Entrepreneurial Reverb”

  1. Startup Colorado sounds really interesting!! My college just started an entrepreneurship incubator, but still wish there was something like that in my state (washington, DC).

  2. […] never hear from him again. These entities don’t understand the culture of entrepreneurship (seeEntrepreneurial Reverb) and they waste vast amounts of time and energy given the lack of impact via results […]

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