There is a tree in Florida called the “strangler fig.” It grows in a startling way: a bird eats the fruit, flies up into a tree, and poops. The seed germinates from a high branch and begins to extend roots towards the ground. As it grows, it gradually wraps itself around its host tree, eventually enveloping it and killing it.
A while back, I enjoyed a rather perilous lunch at a friend’s house in upstate New York. We ate outside in the shade of a leafy oak, which periodically shot acorns at us at near-supersonic speeds. The acorns, with their incredibly sharp tips, need to smash into the ground with enough velocity to penetrate and crack themselves open so they can begin to grow.
Why this sudden obsession with germination? Because this was the metaphor used by the brilliant Ernesto Sirolli, founder of the Sirolli Institute, when he came to visit us in Christchurch earlier this week.
“Entrepreneurs are like seeds,” he said, in his strong Italian accent. “And different ones require different conditions to get started. Some need to be underwater. Some need the landscape to be cleansed by fire. And some have to be eaten by an elephant and passed through its digestive system before they will be ready to bear fruit.”
This, then, is what happens: you grow up, in good conditions or bad. You go to school, or you don’t. You travel, or you don’t. You are naturally creative and curious, or you accidentally find yourself in an unexpected situation, like an earthquake or a hurricane. But one day, the sum total of your experiences leads you to the Entrepreneurial Moment. You have an idea. You think it’s a winner. And you want to make it happen.
Here begins the tricky part, specifically because there are some myths about entrepreneurship that often go unquestioned. The first myth is about the idea. We often think the idea is the key thing. It’s not. Ideas are easy. There are millions of them, billions, fafillions. What’s hard is execution.
The execution of the idea -- the making it happen -- is where the second myth hides: that entrepreneurship is a solo sport. It’s not. Running is a solo sport. Building a business requires a team.
And the team brings the third myth into play: that what we need is a team of experts in our idea. We’re building a website, so we need a team of expert programmers. We’re starting a cupcake company, so we need people who can bake and people who can decorate the shop. We’re creating a clothing line, so we need a team of designers. But we don’t.
Or, rather, we do. But that’s not the only thing we need. Ernesto describes his model as the Trinity of Management, and states what seems so painfully obvious as soon as it is spoken: that every business, in order to succeed, needs to do three things. That those three things are the product, the marketing, and the financial management -- you have to be able to make it, sell it, and look after the money. And never in the history of the world has the person been born who can do all three of those things beautifully. This is why you need your team.
The problem, he points out, is that Product, Finance, and Marketing will never understand each other. “The customer wants it in green,” says Marketing. “Never,” says Product.“ Green will ruin it!” “Who cares?” says Finance. “How much did you charge for it?” “Charge?” says Marketing. “I gave it to them for free!”
And around and around it goes. How do you win, asks Ernesto? With love. With understanding that each of these three things is necessary for the success of the endeavor, that compromise is as essential in business as it is in marriage, and that, in the end, if you cannot make it, sell it, and look after the money, you might as well still be in the ass of the elephant.