By now, it should be clear that the title of each blog entry has been a pun on a book title. Also by now, those readers who know me well are likely wondering when I will share more of my infamous colorful commentary. Well, not to disappoint, this is that entry.
I was a very passionate young man when I started Mobius. I was convinced that my colleagues and I could contribute to a change in the economic landscape in Michigan. Imagine, a semiconductor company in Detroit! What a crazy vision. In fact, I want to share that vision. Below is a figure you can find in an IEEE journal showing a micrograph of one of Mobius’ first prototype chips and which was designed while the offices were still in Detroit. We were so proud of developing semiconductor technology in the rust belt that we paid homage to Detroit with an impression of the city’s skyline etched into our silicon.
I also envisioned being one of several who were blazing a trail for others aspiring to spin research out of the University. These ideas were motivated by both the tremendous opportunities I saw in Michigan and the desire to give back to the state based on my terribly positive experiences at the University.
It is important for an entrepreneur to be so idealistic and passionate. However, as I matured, I realized that some of those ideas didn't amount to much more than "tree-hugging."
Just like I was then, I meet many residents in Michigan who are tremendously passionate about economic development in the region. Yet the shear desire "to make things better" is not the reason why a region prospers. That became clear to me as I built Mobius. Milton Friedman, a Nobel Laureate in economics, famously quipped that the sole purpose of a business is to increase shareholder wealth. That is the reality of business. Friedman also accurately described how pursuing that objective would realize prosperity far above that which can be achieved by trying to "make things better." That is the reality of capitalism.
Entrepreneurs need both idealism and business savvy. Idealism attracts and motivates people. It gives a company a sense of purpose. But that purpose is wasted if the business plan is not executed. Like most things in life, a mixture is required for success – not too much of one or the other.
On my entrepreneurial experiences in Michigan
Last year I spoke on a panel entitled "Tapping Michigan Resources" at the Annual Collaboration for Entrepreneurship. I was asked to share my experiences launching Mobius in Michigan and I suspect that the organizers got more than they were expecting. One of the primary points I shared was that the challenges in Michigan really set Mobius back. There simply weren't the resources to tap in the state to support the business I was trying to build. In particular, there was insufficient capital and a lack of management with relevant expertise.
The audience immediately lashed out and a gentleman in the back of the room yelled out to ignore my advice. He exclaimed that Michigan has everything it needs! John Bonaccorso, CEO of 9thXchange, was also on the panel with me. He jumped in and made it clear that these are the resources required to build technology businesses and those resources are simply scarce in Michigan. John and I continued to drive the conversation to that point – that is, understanding what is broken so it can be fixed. In fact, this is the very reason I am writing this blog as I stated from the beginning. It's time to stop hugging trees and start understanding emerging business in Michigan. It's time to accept the reality of what exactly is broken and work toward fixing it.
Nevertheless, I see this cycle perpetuate in Michigan. I often argue that there are ten times as many "enablers" as there are "doers." That is backward. Doers know what they need and go get it. They don't need enablers, but they do need the proper resources including capital and management. When I had a vision to launch Mobius, I didn't look around for people to "enable" me. I moved forward confidently with what I believed I needed to do and I course-corrected when I was wrong. I raised money from the few places I could because of the lack of capital in Michigan. I worked with the resources I had in the state including the University and local veteran entrepreneurs from different backgrounds. And I moved to California when I was out of money. I even changed our business model between the seed and later rounds.
The point is this: I did what I needed to do to succeed in business. And if I didn't, I wouldn’t be writing this blog.
Yet I still overhear tree-huggers and enablers often. The only thing I can say about those people is that they have never "done this" so it should be clear how much I value their advice. Further, some of those who are actually trying to "do this" often tell me that unlike me (the sell-out) they're "keeping it real" by staying in Michigan.
There's only one word for these people: idiots.
A business leader should "keep it real" by making decisions to succeed in business, whatever those decisions may be. Michigan won’t develop a great start-up ecosystem until it learns how to build great businesses from the ground up. Great businesses are built with the requisite resources. Just loving Michigan simply isn't enough. We need to recognize these challenges, fix them and move forward. There's something we can all be passionate about. In fact, for better or worse, it is something I'm personally passionate about.
Would I do it again? And other parting advice…
Launching Mobius has been one of the most challenging experiences of my entire life. I have never known lower lows or higher highs. And even now, we still don't know how it will all end up. Nevertheless, I wouldn't take a moment of it back. At times I felt mired in regret and frustration with mistakes I made, but those emotions were wasted. Entrepreneurship is a process of failing and succeeding. There are rejections and challenges around every single corner. The real determinate of success is how one responds to them.
So my parting advice is this: Do it.
Be a "risk-taker" and a "doer." Use the resources you have wisely, but know their limitations. Understand your business, but maintain your passion. Don't become jaded - become savvy. Ignore detractors. And take every failure on as if it were a brand new challenge to overcome.
After all, you have the rest of your life to regret all of the other things that you didn’t do. Don't make this one of them.