If you were to go to a racetrack and see a million-dollar thoroughbred cross the finish line, would it occur to you to ask who really ‘won’ the race, the horse or the jockeyThink about it…The horse is a finely tuned, muscle machine that rips through the competition and is the icon everyone sees when the race is over. But 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 connecting exquisitely with the horse — and knowing it so intimately that he or she maneuvers it through the racetrack with an almost intuitive precision — 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.
Often when I walk my dogs, I get to watch the intimate relationship between the professional jockeys and their charges as they race around a track near my home. Later in the day, the jockeys perform their rigid fitness routines and, 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 (and don’t really like horse racing as a sport). I know so little about it, yet their passion for the deeply intuitive connection with a horse is contagious.One time, the owner of this particular horse facility joined me for a chat and told me something surprising. When I questioned him about which is more important, the jockey or the horse, he said, ‘There are lots of great racehorses, but winning jockeys are hard to find. When we find a top jockey, we do everything in our power to find him or her a winning mount.’It’s the same in business.As an investor, I never back a specific product or service. I invest in the entrepreneur.Of course, his or her passion for the product or service makes a big difference, but if for some reason the product or service fails, I’ll stick with the jockey.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. Put another way, 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 serve. 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’d had up to then, and I was nervous. Later, as Bill tells it, he only met me for lunch as a favor to the person who referred him to me. He’d read none of the material I sent prior to the meeting. The capital markets were so dry that he said: I 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…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. This comes from gaining a deep understanding of your market, from brainstorming with distributors, and holding feedback sessions with potential customers, all before you even start the company. 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 self-confidence, which all studies of entrepreneurship conclude is the most important attribute for success. There are some very simple tools and techniques that successful entrepreneurs can adopt to build their self-confidence but, sadly, too many turn to them after they start up, rather than while they’re in the early stage. It’s a whole lot easier to build self-confidence before you start up…than in the early bumpy phase of building a business when you’re facing multiple challenges.Happy Riding!