Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Giving Tree

One of my favorite organizations, the Sacramento Entrepreneurship Academy, was founded based on a simple premise: Entrepreneurs replicate themselves. Over the past two-plus decades, the Academy’s Board (30 or so regional business folk who pay $1,200 a year to volunteer their time to train, educate and inspire [and replicate!] the next generation of entrepreneurs) has mentored 500 students. Board members give – of their time, money, expertise, and energy – and get (the gratitude of replication).

One of my favorite books, and a contemporary fave of my five-year-old son, is Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. It’s a melodic gem; the message is paradoxical, at times inspiring and uplifting (the generous gifts of the tree), at times sad and perplexing (the emotion of the tree – “and then the tree was happy … but not really” – after the boy chops the trunk to create a boat).

Benevolent entrepreneurs are similar when they replicate, and you can draw parallels to Silverstein's genius. Here's the analogy I posed in an earlier post, comparing gardens and gardening to companies and entrepreneurship:

All gardens begin with site selection: A gardener selects an area and commences preparation. The gardener will then plant seeds. Seeds are fueled by water (not too much, not too little), sunlight (the more, the better) and artificial and organic pesticides. As we explored last week, our pollen-transporting friends, bees, play a role too. Given a week or two of nurturing, the seeds sprout and plants emerge. Given many more weeks of nurturing and fuel, the plants grow, blossom, produce vegetables, and collectively dispel inconvenient truths. Visitors visit the garden, chat with the gardener, and (perhaps) enjoy its products. As the garden grows, more gardeners and more fuel are needed; the simple joy of seeds, soil and water evaporates. And, gardeners oftentimes create and cultivate new gardens with new plants in different sites. Great gardeners love what they do. They sweat. They get their hands dirty. They are protective, even defensive, of their garden. They – with help from mother nature – make something out of nothing. Eventually, gardens (or the plants therein) die. Generally, they are replaced or replenished. Most gardeners enjoy the fruit of their labor (fresh fruits and veggies and flowers), and some even make money at it.

All companies begin with selecting and preparing an idea. The entrepreneur (gardener) then tests and incubates his ideas (seeds), fueled by seed capital, refrigerators full of Mountain Dew and Coors Light, and colleagues (team members, advisors, family). Given time, the company will sprout an embryonic (V1) product. Given more time and nurturing and fuel, the company matures, blossoming and producing worthy products (and perhaps propelling inconvenient truths). Visitors visit the company, meet with the entrepreneur and his fellow gardeners, and (perhaps) purchase products or add fuel (capital) to the company. As the company grows, more team members and more capital are needed; the simple joy of ideas, inspiration, and all-nighters evaporates. And, entrepreneurs oftentimes create and cultivate new companies with new products. Great entrepreneurs love what they do. They sweat. They get their hands dirty. They are protective, even defensive, of their company. They – with help from others – make something out of nothing. Eventually, companies (or their products) die. Generally, they are replaced or replenished. Most entrepreneurs enjoy the fruit of their labor (independence, pride, gratification, recognition), and some even make money at it.
Seed and fertilize. Tend and care. Nurture and grow. Harvest and profit. Give and take. Reinvent and replicate. Sounds like a fruitful path to prosperity.

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