The Monk And The Riddle
The Education Of A Silicon Valley Entrepreneur
By Randy Komisar
With Kent Lineback
The Monk And The Riddle: The Education Of A Silicon Valley Entrepreneur is a personal narrative of Randy Komisar, who works in Silicon Valley with entrepreneurs. While I greatly anticipated reading this book, I was disappointed after reading it (more appropriately, glancing through parts of the book). In particular, the subtitle, The Education Of A Silicon Valley Entrepreneur, led me to expect many lessons about entrepreneurship, which I didn't find in this book.
Komisar explains what he does: "I incubate startups. To that end, I provide the scarcest commodity of all, leadership and experience. I help people build their ideas into successful businesses. Neither an angel nor a consultant, I support entrepreneurs as a kind of junior partner, a full member of the team, an owner and decision maker, not a hired hand. I invest my time, and in return, I receive an equity stake in the business."
That's not a bad gig. How did Komisar get started, and what qualifies him for this role? More accurately than "leadership and experience," Komisar can provide contacts and negotiation skills. How did Komisar's "entrepreneurial education" begin? Well, he went to Harvard Law School. He moved into technology law about the time companies like Apple were becoming established. He took a job with Apple Computer. His specialty was negotiation.
Apple decided to spin off the part of their company that made many Macintosh applications as Claris Corporation. The lead manager of the spin-off company, Claris, liked Komisar's reputation as a negotiator and asked him to join the spin-off as one of the "founders." Claris was later reacquired by Apple, and Komisar's reputation and financial windfall were made. He brags of building a company up to $90 million in revenue, back when $90 million really meant something. Unlike today, where he notes $90 million is chump change in employee stock options.
Komisar went on to be recruited by several companies, including LucasArts, Go, and WebTV. Throughout his career, he learned much about software and internet-based businesses. He became the CEO of LucasArts Entertainment. With WebTV, he became a "Virtual CEO."
Komisar likes his role as "Virtual CEO" as it allows time for driving around the world on a motorcycle and time for playing with his two "horrible hounds." Plus, as he points out, he gets a piece of the equity.
Of course, most entrepreneurs don't follow this course. It's true many successful participants in entrepreneurial ventures are people other than the main entrepreneur. And, it's true some start-ups have the backing of major companies, such as Apple. But, most entrepreneurs create companies from scratch without the benefit of venture capital, etc.
The lesson I learned from The Monk And The Riddle: The Education Of A Silicon Valley Entrepreneur was that if you want to advance in Silicon Valley, go to Harvard Law School, specialize in securities law or technology law, become a good negotiator, move to Silicon Valley, build personal contacts and negotiation skills, and you might well be well-positioned for getting a piece of other people's entrepreneurial ventures. Being active and being present are two keys to success. Hopefully, your success will snowball.
The most annoying part of
The Monk And The Riddle: The Education Of A Silicon Valley Entrepreneur is when it follows the desire of a young, wanna-be entrepreneur who wants to raise money to start an online funeral service. His enthusiasm for getting rich is supposed to be funny.
Komisar teaches him that if his only goal is to get rich, he probably won't because he won't have the passion to motivate him when times get tough. Komisar explains the weakness of the "Deferred Life Plan." The Deferred Life Plan means trying to create an entrepreneurial venture to get rich, whether or not you really feel passion for the venture. Then, you get rich and go on to do whatever you really want to do with your life.
Anyway, the entrepreneur sees the light and moves from pure online funeral services to wanting a more touchy-feely service that pays homage to the dearly departed. He wants to put the "fun" back into fun-erals. He truly feels passionately about this. Can he have the money, now? All I can say is that a tiger doesn't change its stripes. And, there's a difference between real passion, and the rhetoric of passion that is so common in parts of Silicon Valley.
You might want to get a copy of The Monk And The Riddle: The Education Of A Silicon Valley Entrepreneur from your local library. But, personally, if you are looking for lessons in becoming an entrepreneur, there are far better books.
I imagine that many reading this book really just desire to know a little more about Komisar, and hope to meet him someday. Then they will try to convince him to lend his negotiation skills and contacts to their .com start-up. Or, they wish to drive around like Randy on a motorcycle and be extremely successful with little work (Not that Komisar has achieved his position, experience, and network easily. Recall, he's been working with technology companies for decades.). Of course, they could also read Alice In Wonderland. People who liked Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance and who also like money will probably like this book.