The terrifying rise of the political entrepreneur who “do play the political game, and do not necessarily build a successful business.”

The terrifying rise of the political entrepreneur

By Francisco Dao, Updated: May 23, 2013

In 1999, I decided to leave the headaches of entrepreneurship behind and get a regular Silicon Valley job in an attempt to ride the dot-com wave. My timing was terrible, and by 2001 I had started another company. In that time, however, I learned that the corporate world is comprised of two groups. In one group, there are the entrepreneurs, individuals judged by actual results and forced to live by Yoda’s famous line, “Do or do not, there is no try.” Then there are the corporate stooges, for lack of a better term, who are usually judged by their ability to play corporate politics, making nice to their various bosses.

How a corporate stooge actually performed, or whether or not they produced value, was of little importance. They only had to be good at crafting an appealing image. This is what made entrepreneurs a different breed from the people who made their bones climbing the corporate ladder. Entrepreneurs were judged strictly by their bottom line results.But something has changed lately. No, I’m not naive enough to think that connections and the “old boys club” don’t matter. But there seems to be a new breed of entrepreneurs whose greatest skill is playing the political game. We now have “golden boys” who get funded because they’ve mastered the politics of the startup ecosystem. This group never appears to fail because even when they do, they deftly maneuver a face saving acqui-hire that lets them spin it as a win. Venture capitalists overfund them at unjustifiable valuations and tech giants buy these startups based on perceived talent even when their companies are on the path to becoming a total bust.

Now, I’ve decided to refrain from naming names, since any specific mentions would almost certainly induce a wave of denials and distract from identifying and, hopefully, ending the underlying trend. In short, to the perpetrators of this practice: You know who you are.

By the standard of “do or do not,” this new breed of entrepreneur applies a version that prescribes, “do play the political game, and do not necessarily build a successful business.” They are essentially corporate manipulators but instead of plying their political talents inside a company, they’re doing it with the entire technology sector.

If this pattern continues, I fear the tech industry will morph into something that more closely resembles the corporate world, where politics and perception matter more than product development. Innovation will stall if industry maneuvering becomes more important than new technology. People will begin to be as skeptical of the Valley as they are of the government. The meritocratic ideals that tech denizens love to espouse will ring as hollow as a campaign stump speech, and as favoritism and political machination become the preferred modus operandi, the Valley will become increasingly poor at finding and elevating new talent.

If you’re an entrepreneur and you think my fears are unfounded, ask yourself: How long have you been struggling to get noticed while you see a member of the in-crowd get bailed out of a failing company in an acqui-hire? When you see someone succeed based on something other than “do or do not” you are witnessing a perversion of entrepreneurship most likely crafted by people who are more skilled at politics than they are at building a business.

For now, tech is still relatively meritocratic. New talent is welcomed with open arms, especially by the angel community who seem willing to gamble on just about anyone. But if the rise of the political entrepreneur continues, the corporate gamesman and the entrepreneur will soon be indistinguishable from one another.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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