In my book, An Unlikely Intervention, I submit that a key to becoming a successful entrepreneur is found in creating a matrix of enduring personal relationships. In the world of entrepreneurship and angel investing, this is known simply as your network. Success will never be found hiding under a bushel basket. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor wisely opined, “Virtue in obscurity is rewarded only in heaven. To succeed in this world, you have to be known to people.”
The most successful entrepreneurs and early-stage investors rely on personal relationships with trusted, loyal, and supportive people in and beyond their industries. The legendary investment strategist Byron Wien said one of his greatest life lessons was: “Network intensely. Luck plays a big role in life and there is no better way to increase your luck than by knowing as many people as possible.” Of course, luck also involves being in the right place at the right time and, at least for entrepreneurs and investors, Silicon Valley has clearly been the place to be for a long time.
In a recent New York Times Op-ed piece, History Professor Margaret O’Mara describes a fascinating matrix of personal relationships that evolved in Silicon Valley over the past sixty years. Originating with people from companies like Hewlett Packard and Intel, this network spread through a web of successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, leading to many of today’s Unicorns like Uber and Airbnb.
Professor O’Mara concludes her piece by suggesting that employees of the latest Unicorns (companies worth one billion dollars or more) have a choice: they can simply join and carry on the elite family tree nurtured by Silicon Valley, or they “can use their windfall to really change the world.” This struck me as a not-so-subtle nudge to consider devoting their payouts to impact investing and the creation of purposeful companies that strive to improve the human condition. Now, there is an idea worth nurturing.
PanTheryx, the company whose journey I portray in my book, offers a superb example of how a network of inventors, managers, and investors plays a crucial role in becoming a successful entrepreneur. However, the ultimate beneficiaries of the company’s revolutionary invention, DiaResQ, were not members of an exclusive network, but families in underdeveloped countries, with no networks whatsoever. As Samuel Johnson observed, “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”