Are You an Entrepreneur Like Christopher Columbus?
Become a member of TranslationDirectory.com at just
$8 per month (paid per year)
think the world has changed and that somehow the experiences of today's
entrepreneurs are different than yesterday's. Is it really different? With
Columbus Day upon us, let's step back and take a look at Columbus through
the eyes of today's entrepreneurs and start-ups. Columbus was an explorer
and an adventurer, but today he would simply be called an entrepreneur.
Christopher Columbus was born around 1451 to a father, who worked in the
textile industry, and was of small means.
Today's Perspective: Christopher Columbus was not well-connected and he
had to build his professional network to achieve his goals. Certainly
funding was not to be found among family and friends of his early childhood.
Columbus spent his youth sailing on small vessels. In one of his writings,
Columbus claims to have gone to the sea at the age of 10. Yet, a contradictory
statement by the admiral has him becoming a sailor at 14. In the early
1470s, he served on a ship associated with the failed attempt to conquer
Naples. However, during the same years of 1470-1473 he can be found in
the family weaving business. In 1476, he sailed on a convoy attacked by
a privateer - two of the four ships escaped. His voyages continued into
northern Europe. In 1479, Columbus settled in Portugal, where he worked
with his brother as a mapmaker.
Today's Perspective: Columbus had some experience in his industry. His
resume was spotty. Nothing stands out or is remarkable at this point.
Being part of some failed voyages was not optimal for asking investors
for funding in later years.
In 1478, he married a lady of some rank, Felipa Moniz de Perestrello,
daughter of Bartholomew Perestrello, a captain in the service of Prince
Henry the Navigator, and also cousin of the archbishop of Lisbon.
Today's Perspective: Now here's some potential to get family and friends
as investors, or at the very least, some introductions and connections
to those institutional investors (monarchs) and the super angels (noblemen).
Identifying the Problem
In 1453, the Ottoman Turks took over the land-based trade routes to Asia,
which made travel through the region dangerous. Thus, the urgent need
to discover a new sea route to reach India and China - vital sources of
silk, spices and other products.
Today's Perspective: The political winds changed, causing profits to be
curtailed from a sole source supplier with no other geographic location
able to provide suitable replacements. There we have it: customers desperately
seeking a solution to an urgent problem. Surely they tried other solutions,
but apparently none were adequate. And where there is profit, there is
progress, and the greater the profit, the greater the progress. Here the
investors were trying to solve a big problem.
The Product Concept
How Columbus arrived at his idea is not known, and the details are disputed.
It is said while working as a mapmaker, he came in contact with many mariners.
There were books written about previous explorations to the east. He corresponded
with some of the thought leaders of the day concerning his proposal.
Today's Perspective: Columbus had a spark. He didn't take a half-baked
idea directly to the investors. He spent some time researching it, discussing
it with current day experts - the mariners that required maps, and corresponding
with the thinkers of the day. He refined his proposal. Columbus' investment
community was rather small. There were only a few that could afford to
fund him, likewise there simply aren't a huge number of venture capitalists
today and word gets around quickly.
In 1485, Columbus presented his plans to the King of Portugal. He proposed
the king provide three ships and grant Columbus one year to search for
a route to Asia. The king submitted the proposal to his experts, who rejected
it. In their opinion, Columbus' proposed route of 2,400 miles was far
Although the king's council was negative, the king favored Columbus' proposal.
The king brought the proposal to the bishop of Ceuta, who suggested the
plan be carried out in secret and without its author's knowledge. A ship
was dispatched, but it returned shortly after beginning its voyage as
the sailors lost heart and refused to venture far.
Today's Perspective: It would be a miracle today if an unknown and unproven
entrepreneur could secure major funding from the first investor meeting.
The king did exactly what the venture capitalists and angel investors
do today; they validate the technical aspects of the proposal through
their network of experts in many fields. In Columbus' case, the experts
weighed in with serious concerns about the technical merits of his proposal
- and rightly so. Columbus' inexperience in sailing made him underestimate
the circumference of the earth.
As to the secret voyage, well ... that's when investors like the idea,
but don't like the entrepreneur. It's when investors feel they want to
appoint a more suitable management team. In Columbus' case, the investors
didn't feel he would be adding much to the execution phase.
In 1488, Columbus approached the King of Portugal once again and was rejected.
Henry the Navigator had revived an old proposal for Portugal to pursue
a sea route around the southern tip of Africa. In 1487, the Portuguese
mariner Bartholomeu Dias set sail to round the Horn of Africa. Shortly
after Columbus' second meeting, Dias successfully returned and Portugal
was no longer interested in seeking a westward sea route to Asia.
Today's Perspective: The investors liked Columbus' proposal, they tried
it, but it didn't work. So they sought a solution elsewhere and chose
to fund a solution that was proposed by a successful and proven mariner
- Prince Henry the Navigator. The entrepreneur is never the only proposal
being presented to the investor; there will be many. Once Portugal had
solved its problem, it was time to seek funding elsewhere, perhaps with
Persistence and Searching Harder for an Investor
Columbus had difficulty finding funding. His proposals were rejected by
the various European monarchs. While presenting his proposal to the monarchs,
he continued to meet with noblemen, seeking their advice and securing
connections. Columbus persisted as the royal experts debated his proposal
and subsequently denied its merits. Columbus often fell into deep despair.
When he presented his proposal to Ferdinand and Isabella, it received
the same rejection. One appraoch was poorly timed, as the Spanish were
in the middle of a struggle that resulted in the conquest of the Granada
Moors. However, the Spanish monarchs offered him an annual allowance and
provided him food and lodging at no cost in all cities and towns under
their control, just to keep him from taking his proposal to someone else.
Queen Isabella rejected Columbus' plan three times before changing her
mind. Columbus' terms - the position of Admiral, governorship for him
and his descendants of discovered lands, and ten percent of the profits
for all trips made by Spain to the new lands, for all time. Finally in
1492, the monarchs approved his proposal. In August, his expedition departed
and arrived in America on October 12. Columbus stumbled upon America.
He returned the next year and presented his findings to the monarchs,
and Spain entered a Golden Age.
Today's Perspective: Persistence matters a great deal in the start-up
game. Unless you've got a spectacular track record, funding won't happen
quickly - not in a week, not in a month. Entrepreneurs have to persist
for some time and there will be those times when the entrepreneurs wonder
why they are doing it. Cisco was rejected by 77 VC's before securing funding
and it was near a 1,000 rejections for Colonel Sanders of KFC. It takes
a strong ego to survive that much rejection. Timing is everything in capital
markets. If the entrepreneur is seeking any kind of outside funding, it
is all somehow connected to the capital markets. In Columbus' case, it
was the struggles between countries.
The Spanish monarchs essentially put a no-shopping gag on Columbus - they
paid him not to take his proposal elsewhere. This is green-mail. Once
Portugal had a sea route around the Horn of Africa, Ferdinand and Isabella
had to find a route to the East in order to keep their competitor from
grabbing the lion share of the market. Hence, their sudden interest in
Columbus and willingness to accept his terms. In today's terms, Columbus
demanded to be CEO and locked in a succession plan for his children to
be appointed CEO, he and his family were to receive 10% of corporate profits
forever - equity was out of the question, but salary and profit sharing
seemed acceptable to the monarchs. To have demanded those terms for the
monarchs, Columbus must have been quite an ambitious man. Imagine the
response a first-time entrepreneur, with no track record of success, would
get from a VC today with those terms.
The world is not so different today than 500 years ago. Technology advances
as we further the improvements of previous generations, but how people behave and react has not changed at all.
Cynthia Kocialski has founded three companies and has been
actively involved in more than 25 hi-tech start-up. Cynthia has held various
technical, marketing and management positions at IBM and Matrox Electronics.
She is a graduate of the University of Rochester and the University of Virginia.
She writes a blog at http://www.cynthiakocialski.com
Published - November 2010
Submit your article!
Read more articles - free!
Read sense of life articles!
this article to your colleague!
more translation jobs? Click here!
agencies are welcome to register here - Free!
translators are welcome to register here - Free!
Please see some ads as well as other content from TranslationDirectory.com: