IT TAKES THREE TO TANGO (Gracias, Señor Albeniz)

November 19, 2014
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At this writing, there are three individuals, all three the very best in their field, who unfortunately do not have access to each other, better yet do not even know each other. Yet they cannot be immensely successful unless they fully merge their talents.

One is the developer of a unique and remarkable product or idea. This person knows that the world has been waiting for their idea, yet does not know how to access the “big money” needed to make it happen. Let’s call that individual the INVENTOR. What they invent does not necessarily have to be new: it can also be the proverbial “better mousetrap”.  A good example, a few decades ago, was Sony’s Walkman: merely a battery powered portable device allowing one to walk and even run while listening to cassettes. None of the technology was new: audio cassettes had been around forever and so had alkaline batteries and headsets. The genius there was to take three existing technologies and combine them to create a product the general public had been dying for. More often than not, however, the INVENTOR, comes up with a unique concept, sometimes requiring a massive input of capital, sometimes not. It will be “sold” to others only if a detailed and credible Business Plan is developed.

The INVENTOR’s degree of separation from the BANKER is a difficult one to navigate in order for both to win. A naive inventor going straight to a venture capital firm should expect big trouble: why should the BANKER give them a fair share of the pie if they smell the opportunity to squeeze? The INVENTOR needs to consult with an attorney prior to going after a BANKER. A fully detailed and foolproof Business Plan should be certified by the Attorney at that time.

The BANKER has very deep pockets and is ready to invest in a product or an idea that will make them earn a huge return on their investment. The BANKER has been trawling the hot spots of Silicon Valley, Silicon Beach and Wall Street, desperately looking for a concept in need of funding. The issue is: the parties do not know how to look for each other, and do not speak the same “language”.

And it is not always the guy whose name is on the letterhead who is in fact the “genius” who created the product. Wall Street and Silicon Valley are full of “have beens” who, in spite of having developed and created the product, have been pushed out by someone with possibly different ethics, claiming to be the “inventor”. Would I shock you if I told you that the very famous, very public Elon Musk had (almost) nothing to do with the creation of Tesla Motors? It is a fact, however. In 2003 Martin Eberhard co-founded Tesla Motors with Marc Tarpenning and became the first CEO of Tesla Motors. Elon Musk did not get involved until a year later, yet has always claimed to be the “inventor” of Tesla. What happened there? The true inventor, Martin Eberhard, found himself in a pickle when time came to raise a second round of capital. Musk, whose pockets were flush from two prior successful ventures, “muscled” his way in and made sure, in due time, that Eberhard was shooed away.

The morale of the story: you can have the greatest idea in the world, but you will get nowhere without a venture capitalist. Make sure, however, you pick the right one. The minute an idea has the potential to be worth millions, people who seemed so nice at first, can turn into beasts.

Why don’t you see David Fincher’s “The Social Network” to be reminded of how the real world operates?

The third individual is the hired gun, a brilliant MANAGER capable of taking raw material and the funding to grow it, in order to combine the other two and turn the combination of idea, funding and skills into gold for everyone. The MANAGER may not invent or bankroll anything, but the product is doomed without the MANAGER’s expertise. Managing includes marketing, technical development, refinancing, hiring of the best specialists, branding and adding overall value to the original concept. The MANAGER is usually a generalist with an exceptional level of intelligence, often an advanced level of formal education and a killer résumé. Let’s name two: Gary Loveman at Caesars World and Christopher Nassetta at Hilton Worldwide.

Loveman, the CEO of Caesars World Entertainment, graduated from MIT at age 29 and taught at Harvard for nine years, prior to being hired by Harrah’s’ Entertainment (now Caesars) as COO in 1998. In 2003, he became Caesars CEO, growing the company from 15 to 54 locations. Among his achievements, he took the company private, and later took it public again. Even with the company’s current challenges, Loveman has been recognized as the “best CEO” in the gaming and lodging industry by Institutional Investor magazine over the years.

Nassetta, the CEO of Hilton Worldwide, holds a degree in Finance. He spent several years as Chief Development Officer for the Oliver Carr Company, before founding Bailey Capital in 1991, a real estate investment and advisory firm. He was then recruited by Host Hotels & Resorts (one of the world’s largest owner of hotels and a former “sister” company to Marriott International), as Chief Operating Officer. When Blackstone acquired Hilton in 2007, Nassetta was picked as CEO. Since then, he brilliantly survived a recession that crippled most of the world of hospitality, seizing that opportunity to create new brands and shedding Hilton’s stodgy image. Last but not least, he successfully took Hilton public in what may be the biggest and most successful listing in domestic history. Nassetta just turned 51.

Success in business is a beautiful thing. However unless it combines the talents of the INVENTOR, the BANKER and the MANAGER, it does not stand much a chance. It does take three to tango.



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