“Something Ventured: Risk, Reward and the Original Venture Capitalists” is packaged and marketed as though everyone suddenly is, indeed, focused on “The Economy, Stupid” in this election year. And, perhaps millions are interested in learning more about how capitalist systems work these days. But, as a journalist for more than 30 years, I know this truth: Ask your audience to tell you what they want to learn about and they will sound like high school students filling out their college-bound lesson plans. But, instead, watch them actually open their newspaper and we discover that what they really want is their favorite comic strip, maybe a new recipe, perhaps the employment listings and especially advertisements for their real interests, such as movies, new restaurants, the latest electronic gadgets or maybe a reliable used car.
So, I will say this about Something Ventured: You certainly will learn the 101 textbook lesson about America’s first true “venture capitalists” in this movie. And, yes, it is startling to learn that the red-hot vocation of the digital age is only a few decades old. The original “venture capitalists” are still around and are happy to reflect on what they got right—and what they got wrong.
Now, we’re starting to talk about the real reason to get this new Zeigeist release and watch it soon with your spouse, with friends, with your teen-aged and 20-something kids or with friends at work.
I wound up watching the film twice just to make sure that I will recall some of the fascinating tips and techniques these super-smart and super-adaptive investors reveal about what makes them so successful. Here are just a few lessons you’ll learn (don’t worry, there are so many tips in this film that this doesn’t spoil the experience):
Tip 1: When you pick up a daily newspaper, read the obituaries first. You’re likely to spend only a few minutes with the newspaper in our busy culture and you should start by reading about lives we have collectively identified as having wide appeal. Why do we want to remember these people who have died? In your own life, pay more attention to the values celebrated in the daily obituary columns. (This tip comes from “the first venture capitalist,” the now near-legendary George Doroit, who taught at Harvard after World War II and influenced a lot of the venture capitalists who emerged in the ’60s and ’70s.)
Tip 2: Try lots of new ideas, because the vast majority will fail. As innovators at ReadTheSpirit online magazine and publishing house, we live by this rule. Month to month, you’ll find fresh ideas brimming from our webpages. Year to year, we keep emphasizing the small handful that are successful—and quickly forget the duds. That’s how all of these successful venture capitalists conduct their lives.
Tip 3: Even with that code of conduct, you’re still going to make mistakes. You’ll absolutely groan when you meet the investor who turned thumbs down to a desperate young Steve Jobs when Jobs was willing to hand this guy one third of Apple’s shares for just $50,000. Believe me, the guy who rejected that deal is still beating his head against a wall. At the time, though, he just couldn’t understand why anyone would want a home computer and he didn’t like the over-confident young Jobs with his Fu Manchu beard.
Tip 4: Now is the time to open up markets no one dreams will exist in 10 years. Everyone who watches the digital industry knows the kind of story about home computers that I just mentioned. No one could envision that, soon, everyone would want a computer within easy reach. But, the new Zeitgeist film also tells the painful story of Atari. Currently, home gaming represents one third of all of the billions of dollars spent each year on entertainment. But, back when Atari was first hawking a home game console—every smart venture capitalist in the country shot down the idea. No one would want to play electronic games at home, these smart investors reasoned. Not worth risking a dime on home gaming. Boy, were they wrong!
With a surprising humility, all of the venture capitalists in this documentary urge viewers to dream about the horizon line. In the vast majority of cases, these guys—and most of them are guys—placed the majority of their best bets on dead wrong ideas. These capitalists are featured in this film as success stories because, somewhere along the line, one or two light bulbs blinked at just the right moment for them.
All of them, in chorus, say that the best time to innovate and start new ventures is when everyone else is scrambling for the exits in the midst of tumultuous change. For example, in the 1970s, when major computers were locking up on a daily basis, one guy at Tandem computers figured out the next step—and launched a billion-dollar segment of the industry that had not existed before. In the 1980s, just two people realized the potential of simply making the world’s most powerful routers—the two engineers who dreamed up what today is the behemoth known as Cisco Systems.
So, sure, if you’re eager for an Economy 101 lesson on the relatively recent history of venture capitalists, then watch Something Ventured. But there’s a whale of a lot more wisdom in this documentary. Don’t miss this good bet!
REVIEWED BY READTHESPIRIT EDITOR DAVID CRUMM
Get the film: Something Ventured: Risk, Reward and the Original Venture Capitalists is available from Amazon on DVD.
Care to read more about Georges Doriot? The book, Creative Capital: Georges Doriot and the Birth of Venture Capital, is also available via Amazon.
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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.