Enjoy this interview with author and tech entrepreneur, Don Perrine, about his new book for those wanting to start a technology company or a tech venture within an existing company.
Kevin: What first sparked the idea to write your book, Technology Entrepreneurs and Intrapreneurs’ Handbook?
Don: Some years ago, I co-founded a consulting company that offered early-stage technology companies in east Tennessee both training for their team and experienced executives to work part-time with them in moving their companies towards their vision. So the book was inspired by one of our former clients who, as a successful entrepreneur and technology business startup accelerator leader, asked to use some of that material. In reviewing and updating it for him, it became clear that it could also benefit a large number of technology entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs as well.
Could you give us a high-level summary of your background?
During my career I lived and worked every chapter in this book. I cofounded a Sarnoff Technology Venture Company for infrared detectors, a consulting company for early-stage technology businesses, and a manufacturing and distribution company for short-lived radiopharmaceuticals used in diagnostic tests. I’ve also served as an officer in an early stage company that led the development and adoption of positron emission tomography (PET) for diagnostic imaging; assisted the founders of a computer-based learning company that was acquired and a digital imaging company that went public; and was a member of a mentoring board for technology startups and co-founded an information technology accelerator.
I’ve served in large, mid-size, early-stage and start-up technology companies, including American and German in the U.S. and French and Belgian in-country. Career responsibilities ranged across technical design, writing, testing, quality, international sales, operations and worldwide marketing. I have held senior management and leadership positions in sales, marketing, quality, regulatory affairs, business development, and European operations; and positions as co-founder, board member, CEO and chairman.
Who should read your book?
The purpose of this book is to enable entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs (that create new products or services in established companies), product managers, senior managers and others engaged in the commercialization of technology products and services to think through critical aspects of the commercialization process. Yet, why should anyone care?
Technology entrepreneurs have a 1 in 10 chance of success and corporate intrapreneurs have an even lower success rate. So the reader’s reason to care might be simply moving the odds of success in their favor! This book can serve as a:
- Roadmap of what to expect at each step to commercialization;
- Source of conceptual information about each step;
- Plan for high and mid-level actionable detail on each step;
- Resources recommendation for each step’s more detailed understanding and implementation.
There are many books that speak to different pieces, each going into great depth and offering valuable insights. However, few if any offer the overview that puts it all together into a complete, common-sense picture. Often technology entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs have technical backgrounds, yet find themselves facing integral roles in the commercialization of a technology. For them, the material in this book should be especially useful.
Another intention is that this book can be used as a handbook; that is, it can be either read or accessed for specific topics that may be relevant at any time. It should cause the reader to think about processes and topics they may have overlooked. All of the topics are treated at a fairly high level, deliberately. Located at both the end of each chapter and in the References and Resources chapter at the end of the book there is a list of books, articles and web sites that can provide the finer detail for ones’ specific tactical implementation needs.
What are the most important elements, messages, or takeaways of your book that you’d like readers to know they will benefit from?
After reading this book, the reader will:
- Learn to approach creativity as a natural process
- Know how to develop their roadmap from vision to profits
- Understand non-conventional thinking to overcome obstacles
- Understand how to assess technology, manufacturing and marketing risks
- Learn six key steps to go from where you are to your destination
- Learn key ideas to lead teamwork critical to success
- Know how to develop a worthy shared vision to motivate, focus and inspire, while putting the power to achieve behind the words
- Learn how to develop a mission that energizes implementation
- Learn both what are and how to develop strategy and tactics
- Learn how to develop your value proposition
- Learn about developing both a compelling reason to buy and differentiating advantages relative to competing alternatives
- Learn how to create and verify new products or services that range from incremental improvement to breakthroughs never thought possible
- Understand marketing and selling strategies for different scenarios
- Attain insight into raising capital at each stage of evolution
- Know how to prepare a business plan for your business and investors
- Learn successful ways to hire, motivate, manage to attain timely results
You have a chapter titled “Vision – Description of the Destination” and another chapter titled “Mission – Vision Minus Current Reality”. Can you explain why these chapters are important ones to read?
Vision and mission are words that are often used interchangeably leading to confusion about what one is really doing. In order to provide clarity, Vision is the destination while the Current Reality is where you are now. So, the difference between where you want to be, the Vision, and where you are now is: the Mission!
In a simple example, if your vision is to have a beautiful lawn, and the current reality is a yard of weeds, the mission is to get from 100% weeds to 100% grass. That clarification enables one, by using the same type of thinking, to now see the strategy, tactics and resources needed to achieve the mission.
The reason these chapters are important is because the chapters that follow them on strategy, tactics, process and resource-related topics will have context, and they use the same thought process.
As a successful technology entrepreneur, what are some mistakes you’ve made while starting your business?
Let’s start with a quote from Otto Wheeley, who was the founder of the technology venture capital firm Venture First in East Tennessee:
“A successful entrepreneur must have good judgment; but in order to have good judgment, he or she must have had bad judgment”.
OK, so here are a few big ones:
Under-communicating with our board, in one of our companies, not only to “keep them in the loop”, but to engage them in difficult issues and decisions prior to the board meetings. I should have talked with each board member at least two times per month so that they were up to speed on all key performance measures, issues and decisions that were needed from the board. Another board mistake was providing too much detail at the board meetings when a simple “dashboard” approach to our financials and key issues, for example, would have provided the top level information needed.
Underestimating the level of difficulty required to both develop and then commercialize our technologies. This subject is addressed in the book, but it is so easy to not think through all the “knowns” and also not plan for some number of “unknowns” or surprises – they are never positive!
Not knowing all that is now in the book at the time. Of course there is always more to learn, which is why the book starts at the 30,000 foot level on each topic and comes down to the “tree tops”; however, for the detail that is pertinent to one’s own technology, business, market, etc. the book provides recommended resources to consider.
How would you define an “entrepreneurial mindset”? What makes it different from a traditional mindset?
A few months ago I had lunch with a lecturer that taught entrepreneurship at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He mentioned that his students seemed reluctant to respond to certain questions without first consulting each other. My response was to ask if that style was consistent with someone who had the mindset to be an entrepreneur – he agreed it did not.
The point of the story is that, in my view, entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs think differently than most people; they have a drive to create new things; they see what others don’t see to fill a need or solve a problem or create something no one ever knew they could have; they are dissatisfied with the status quo; they go against the grain, ignoring conventional thinking and not running with the crowd; so they take calculated risks. They are the people who innovate and therefore create value for our economy; they enable a nation to grow wealth by either creative destruction or by improving productivity. For the United States’ economy, in my view, they are our principal advantage, and we should do all we can to nurture them.
Intrapreneur is an uncommon word, but they are entrepreneurs who are in an established business. However, they have it both easier and harder. It is easier, because they have a salary, benefits, a career and some level of security. In addition, they have resources that are often the envy of any struggling entrepreneur. Yet, their drive to overcome obstacles may be diluted by not only their relatively comfortable environment, but there are politics in established companies and cultures that discourage failure or mistakes. In other words, risk averse; yet any new initiative has unknowns and therefore risk. So while there is so much potential for intrapreneurs, it may be actually harder for them to achieve their vision. In fact, some research suggests that the failure rate of intrapreneurs is higher than for entrepreneurs. It is my hope that this book will help them to be more successful.
Give us an interesting fun fact about your book or the research you conducted for your book.
There is a great story about a fisherman near the end of the book that is both entertaining and it offers perspective on entrepreneurship.
Where can people find out more about you and/or your book?
Of course, the book is available at Amazon.com by clicking here.
Also, I am creating a website at www.donperrine.com that will be up by early November 2015. It will provide more information and background.