I was living in San Francisco last year when I attended a small and
informal talk that a young entrepreneur gave at an alumni event. At the
time he started up AdMob, a seller of mobile advertising, he was with a new wife and child and was in the middle of his first year at Wharton. Life was a struggle. He was laden with a growing debt from his MBA, and he had a family to support.
“I needed to find a way to make enough money to support my
family. But I wanted to be at home, be in charge of my own hours,
and….besides, I didn’t really want to work for anybody.”
he started up his company and put together a very amateurish-looking
Web site that was “simple but got the job done.” Fast forward a few years
later, and this makes the news:
“Google Inc. said Monday it has agreed to acquire
mobile-phone advertising firm AdMob Inc. for $750 million, as the search
giant seeks to better position itself for increased Internet use on
wireless devices.” (MarketWatch)
this was not just by stroke of luck. Omar exuded intelligence but he
wasn’t arrogant. Many successful entrepreneurs I’ve met have a kind of
swagger that doesn’t truly match the underlying substance. But Omar knew
his business better than anyone could, he was ahead of the curve in a
still-nascent market (even today), and he had the perseverance and
patience to stick with it.
Most importantly, he had a mentor. This is the real lesson. Find a
mentor. Someone who’s been through hard knocks and who will treat you
like their own son/daughter in an area of specialty. Omar found that in a
partner in Sequoia Capital.
That partner didn’t just treat AdMob like one of many portfolio
companies with an impersonal and numbers-driven eye. He nurtured and
groomed Omar, helped him think through the risks of certain paths, and
went to bat for Omar when the other partners didn’t fully agree on
investing in AdMob.
This relationship clearly paid off not only in Omar’s personal growth,
but also in finding prospective acquirers and partners. Google and AdMob
share a venture-capital investor in Sequoia Capital, and other backers
of the three-year-old mobile firm include former eBay Inc. executive
Maynard Webb. Therefore, it is absolutely important in filling your
board not just with big names but with deep relationships.
I take my hat off to those humble souls who succeed and attribute their
success to luck and necessity. My uncle is a successful owner of a
packaged food company in France. When asked how he managed to transform
himself over the years, from a penniless immigrant in Paris with a wife
and 4 children to a successful business man with an active political
life, he almost shrugs his shoulders and thinks deeply to find an
“I didn’t have much of a choice. It was either succeed or die.”