Should Entrepreneurs Be More Like Teenage Girls?

Posted by: Jeff Bussgang on August 31

Even though I graduated from college (gasp) 18 years ago, I still think about the school season as my annual planning cycle rather than the calendar year. Having three school age kids reinforces this life rhythm.

And so as I was thinking through my personal goals for this coming year, and discussing individual goals with each of my kids (a recently adopted ritual I highly recommend for any parent), this article from The Economist caught my eye. The article's subtitle, tells it all: "Depression may be linked to how willing someone is to give up his [or her] goals." The article describes research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by Carsten Wrosch and Gregory Miller, where teenage girls who had strong "goal adjustment capacities" - the ability to disengage from unattainable girls and reset their attention onto new goals - avoid feeling down and depressed. In contrast, girls who get stuck on their goals and can't reset are more susceptible to depression. The implication is that if you aren't facile at adjusting your goals, and they're overly ambitious goals, it can lead to depression.

Applying this research to entrepreneurs is an interesting thought experiment. As investors, we VCs are always attracted to entrepreneurs who set big, hairy audacious goals (BHAGs). Who wants to invest in an entrepreneur whose pitch is, "I'm going to make a nice living in a small niche," as opposed to, "I aspire to achieve world domination"? Yet are those entrepreneurs more susceptible to depression and defeatism when they're unable to achieve those outrageous BHAGs?

To reconcile these two views I am reminded of an excellent book I recently read by renowned Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, called Mindset. Dweck's research shows that successful people in business, sports and life have "growth mindsets" rather than "fixed mindsets". The "growth mindset" is one in which a person believes that one's world view is less about ability and more about lifelong learning. "Growth mindset" individuals feel they can always learn from experiences (failures and successes) and develop resilience because they're focused on personal growth rather than achievement tied to rigid objectives. When a "growth mindset" individual faces adversity, they focus on the learnings and the self-improvement opportunities that come from adversity.

I have seen in my own work that the best entrepreneurs do set BHAGs, sometimes outrageous and unattainable ones (create a $100 million company in 5 years from scratch? Is that really possible?), and push themselves to achieve excellence. But the ones that really distinguish themselves are the ones who embrace the "growth mindset." They embrace life long learning, no matter how great their achievements, and allow themselves to occasionally hit the reset button and adjust their goals without breaking stride when reality intrudes (such as, say, the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression) are the ones that can blend the best of both worlds.

What kind of mindset have you seen work best?

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New England’s Top 10 Innovators

Posted by: Jeff Bussgang on June 03

June is innovation month in New England and it has started off with a bang. A few weeks ago, BusinessWeek named Boston the 3rd most inventive city in the world. This week, The Deal declared that Route 128 is well-positioned to continue its leadership in innovation, despite the economic crisis, due to its diverse economy and robust entrepreneurial environment. All month, there are numerous high-quality events going on, including an Unconference run by Mass TLC, MIT Deshpande Center's IdeaStream and MITX 2009 Awards night. Much thanks to Scott Kirsner for catalyzing this energy around innovation month!

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What Rehab Is Teaching Me About Making Bad Investments

Posted by: Jeff Bussgang on May 10

For as long as I can remember, I have been an enthusiastic participant in sports. To be clear, I'm not a great athlete (in fact, I'm the only one of the five Flybridge General Partners that wasn't a varsity athlete in college), just good enough to participate passionately and aggressively like the prototypical weekend warrior. During any of my amateur sports efforts -- whether competing in mini-triathlons, tackling hard ski runs, or trying to jump the wake while Water-skiing -- I've always enjoyed pushing myself and approaching the task fearlessly.

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First 100 Days: Washington Has Become the New, New York

Posted by: Jeff Bussgang on April 30

It used to be that anyone in the entrepreneurial world had to be keenly cognizant of what was going on in New York City. If you were funded by VCs in Silicon Valley, Boston, or Bombay, it still paid to have your CEO and sales team have eyes and ears in NYC for two main reasons. First, that's where the customers were. CIOs of financial services companies were viewed as gods by many in the start-up community, controlling billions of dollars in IT spending and often willing to experiment with young companies and the next, new thing. The large media companies, too, were seen as great early customers and hotbeds of innovation. (I remember how thrilled we were when we secured Time Warner's ground-breaking Pathfinder division as a customer at Open Market back in 1995, thinking we had landed what would be the 800 lb gorilla of the Internet age.)

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VC Rightsizing

Posted by: Jeff Bussgang on April 21

The news came out yesterday that VC funding in the U.S. was down in Q1. Really down. VC funding into start-ups averaged roughly $20 billion a year for many years since the bubble crashed and recently (in 2007 and 2008) had crept up to $30 billion a year. The Q1 '09 figure was $3.0 billion, suggesting we are on a $12 billion run rate for this year.

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Staying Entrepreneurial contributors

Renowned executive coach Marshall Goldsmith, serial entrepreneur Jeff Bussgang, a partner at Flybridge Capital in Boston, and Dr. Steven Berglas, executive coach, management consultant, and expert on "the stress of success," share their tips for staying entrepreneurial in trying times.

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