When McGill University asked me to teach a class on entrepreneurship, the first step was going back through history and look at the origins of entrepreneurship and profiles of entrepreneurs.
I was recently chatting with a financial advisor who asked me if I remained as engaged with WatchMojo as I was in its earlier days. “Sometimes entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs, hence [over time,] they might be tempted to start working on other projects to build and to grow” something new.
That led to pause and think, and ask if it applied to me. I’ve studied successful people all my life, going back over 30 years. My first book Course To Success broke down the commonalities between successful individuals in business, sports, entertainment, military. After graduation, I wrote biographies of many people, but gravitated more and more to studying what drive business executives and mainly, builders.
Media entrepreneurs =/ Tech entrepreneurs.
In the Intro of my McGill entrepreneurship class, I look at the impact of the industrial and technological revolutions, and observed how what drove entrepreneurs has changed over the past century. Indeed, today entrepreneurship is a far more mainstream career path, a journey in fact. But not all entrepreneurs are alike… and when thinking about that advisor’s comment, I realized the main dichotomy is that media entrepreneurs are fundamentally different from technology pioneers in one main way: technologists are far more likely to leave the companies they launch to pursue new things, whereas media icons tend to stay with their brainchild until they are physically incapable of doing so. I have learned a lot from tech entrepreneurs like Andy Grove, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Page & Sergey Brin etc. but I am more like media entrepreneurs such as Joseph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst, Henry Luce, Walt Disney, Rupert Murdoch, Sumner Redstone, Conrad Black, Pierre Péladeau, Pierre-Karl Péladeau, etc. If you look at every single one of those: they stay on at the organizations they start/take over until they literally can no longer function. It’s not just old timers: it’s not surprising to me to see Buzzfeed’s Jonah Peretti not being too eager to cash out, despite enticing offers from Disney.
For me, I’ve always said that there’s way too much luck & timing involved, and alignment of stars required that I would never start another business. I love my job/role, my team, my company and my industry… and having basically nearly killed myself to get here, I ain’t leaving unless they “take me out.” Now granted, yes, I would step aside if it was for the greater good, but even then I would stay to support or take on a more narrow role within the organization’s mission.
What my financial advisor was saying was more representative of technology entrepreneurs. Why? Technology generally grows stale, media grows a moat over time. The challenges technologists seek to solve naturally change more fundamentally. Elon Musk is a great example. Media entrepreneurs, ultimately, are passionate about storytelling, and while the technology behind production and distribution changes, storytelling at its core does not. In fact, storytelling is what makes humans distinct – this is the central motif of Sapiens. Perhaps this is why media entrepreneurs aren’t eager to jump ship, let alone start something new. Without distribution, content’s value is not maximized (I discuss this in my third lecture in the From Concept to Reality course where I urge entrepreneurs to think of a project that fits not just between product and market, but product and distribution, as well as product and their persona. Thus, I told my advisor, now that we have a huge catalog and broad distribution, we’re actually in position entering our largest growth period (nothing is guaranteed, we have to execute and deliver results). It helps that we are also in a once-in-a-generational tectonic shift, with:
i) younger generations shift consumption behavior at scale and
ii) ad dollars flow from TV to emerging platforms.
What do you think? Are media and tech entrepreneurs exactly alike, or are they different in other ways, as well? In any case, here is the introductory lecture on Managing the Small Enterprise, aka From Concept To Reality