Horse or Jockey?
Posted by Trevor on 20 March 2012 | 1 Comment
When you go to a racetrack and see a million dollar thoroughbred cross the finish line, do you ever think about who really won that race: the jockey or the horse?
The horse is a finely tuned, muscle machine that rips through the competition and is the icon everyone sees when the race is over. It’s also without direction. When a jockey gets unseated, most horses run wildly in the wrong direction, and some jump the barriers of the course altogether. If it weren’t for the jockey building an exquisite chemistry with the horse, and knowing it so intimately that he or she maneuvers it through the racetrack with an almost intuitive precision, then it would never reach the finish line. That chemistry is passion, and I get to experience it in the horse world and the business world every day.
Behind my home in Washington is a wonderful thoroughbred horse rehabilitation center called Pegasus that is unique in the US. You can see it in the photo that accompanies this post, and it is one of the photographs of sunrise on the home page taken from my backyard over the lake. When I walk my dogs in the morning I get to watch the intimate relationship between the professional jockeys and their charges as they race around the track. Later in the day the jockeys perform their rigid fitness routines and they sometimes break from their run to chat with me. They speak so passionately for what they do, and for the horses they take care of that they make me want to join them. I become immediately invested in their work even though I know nothing about racehorses.
The same goes in business. A product, no matter how strong or good it is, will never reach the sales floor unless there is a passionate expert at the helm steering it through the maze of investors, the media and to the consumer. A strong jockey/ entrepreneur can turn a promising horse into a winner. Investors are interested in great products, but rarely understand them or the market. They are far more intrigued by promising entrepreneurs, something they understand and appreciate only too well. We know that some products fail, but winning entrepreneurs rarely do. If a product crashes, we’ll find them another one from our stable. We know that there are many promising horses out there, but much fewer winning jockeys.
One time I was trying hard to raise money for an idea. Through a convoluted network, I was referred to a promising source of funding, a broker called Bill. I met him for lunch in a crowded and far too noisy restaurant. It was the best lead I had had up to then, and I was nervous. Years later, Bill told people that he only met me for lunch as a favor to the person who referred him to me. He read none of the material I sent prior to the meeting. The capital markets were so dry that he: “intended to pat him on the head, and then tell him to go get a real job doing what he knew. But I was just blown away by his passion!” Intrigued, Bill referred me to a private investor he had worked with before. That meeting went well, and both men invested in my idea, and purely because of the passion I had for it.
Passion is everything in entrepreneurship, and you get that way when you develop that same exquisite chemistry with your product or service as the winning jockey does with a horse. That comes from gaining a deep understanding of your market, from brainstorming with distributors, and holding feedback sessions with potential customers. You should know your market and customer mindset so well that you develop the same intuitive relationship.
When you get that level of knowledge you begin to exude confidence. You can anticipate every question and challenge from an investor. That makes you stand out from the crowd, because you almost can’t wait for them to ask the question. That gives your presentation a sharpness that investors like to hear. Personally, I don’t pay any attention to how well someone presents, and oftentimes I hear very little of what they say. I cannot, however, ignore passion when I see it.