Jerry Kaplan, serial entrepreneur, executive, technical innovator, and author, elaborates on the five biggest mistakes that entrepreneurs make: 1) Having unclear goals and an unclear mission 2) Trying to prove that they are smart 3) Greed - doing it for money. 4) Hiring people that they like rather than people that they need. 5) Not knowing when to let go.
According to Kaplan the best qualities of successful entrepreneurs are: 1) They believe that they can make a difference 2)They have a passion for making things happen. They don't just sit around talking, they go out there are make it happen 3) They have unjustifiable optimism. They believe they can succeed in the face of evidence proving the contrary, he says 4) Tolerance for uncertainty 5) Genuine concern for other people.
Kaplan talks about the five critical skills that entrepreneurs need: 1) Leadership: ability to build consensus in the face of uncertainty 2) Communication: ability to keep a clear and consistent message 3) Decision-making: knowing when to make a decision 4) Being a good team player: knowing when to trust and when to delegate 5) Ability to telescope: to focus in on the details and then move back to the bigger picture.
Kaplan talks about companies having personalities that reflect the personalities of the founders. If you know Bill Gates, you know Microsoft, he says. Entrepreneurs should think about what personality they want the company to have and what personality they themselves have as the founder.
Sales skills and very important and can mean many different things depending on what you are selling, says Kaplan. However, an entrepreneur doesn't necessarily need to have these skills, they should be able to attract people with these skills. The important skill for an entrepreneur is to know what you are good at and what you are not good at, he notes.
Kaplan says that every idea is repeatedly proposed. Timing of an idea is very important and very difficult to call. This involves enabling technologies, customers and trends in the investment industry to come together. He gives examples from TiVo and Amazon. An idea does not stand alone independent of timing and the investment industry, he adds.
Kaplan talks about the different kinds of risks (market, financial and technical) that an entrepreneur faces when starting a company. The trick is to get the risk out as soon as possible. If your product is not obvious to the market you must go out into the market and explain it to them, he says. He shares the example of TiVo.
Kaplan talks about his books. He wrote Startup" from his experiences. He has written another book which has not been published yet. It is a "business to business romance"."
Kaplan talks about how most people will work on an idea for a company for 2-3 years before they get the money. The best time to start a company, he notes, is when everybody thinks it is impossible.
Kaplan talks about who his best leaders are, including Bill Gates, a character from a book, and Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.
In companies, like children, personality is set early and expresses itself differently through the years but it doesn't change, says Kaplan. Entrepreneurs should establish values and culture early on and to remember that these values reflect the values of the founders, he adds.
Kaplan is working on some really "wacky" things. According to him, the next big wave is going to be in Microsensor technology. This will enable people to use technology to do things that don't seem possible. He designed and built a home automation system which narrates whatever is happening. He has basically integrated information from multiple sensors.
Kaplan talks about how roles change within a company when a transition from R&D happens. A vice president of sales when you are trying to get 3 test customers is not a good executive if you are planning to expand to different regions and have a large sales force, he says. You must keep in mind that when transitioning and scaling up, you might have to change management and get in the heavy hitters with experience, he adds.