Wednesday, April 04, 2001

Contrary to Popular Belief...

Many entrepreneurs (myself included) have a contrarian streak. We don't like to go with the crowd, figuring that their lemming-like behavior will get them killed, sooner or later.

For example, I've believed since 1998 that Internet stocks were ridiculously overvalued, and refused to invest in them. Actually, I decided that the only sane thing to do was to become a seller of stock, so I started a company, but that's another story for another time.

This refusal to participate in the NASDAQ bubble earned me a lot of strange looks, especially from my business school classmates. "You mean you aren't investing in Internet stocks," they'd say, in a tone generally reserved for child pornographers and Yale alumni.

I have to admit that my faith wavered at points, especially after I found out that several classmates had maxed out their student loans, put it all into Internet stocks, and racked up 6-figure gains. Nevertheless, I stuck to my guns. Now, with the Nasdaq approaching 1600, I feel vindicated.

Nevertheless, my anecdote underlines the perils facing the dedicated contrarian. The world *is* subject to manias and irrational exhuberance, and it can be a trying task to be the lone voice of reason. In addition, a contrarian can be just plain wrong. You can argue that horses will replace the automobile, and that would be a contrary position, but you'd be waiting until doomsday (or a post-nuclear civilization).

Don't be contrary just to be contrary--you have to carefully research and prove your position before you spit defiance at the gods of consensus.

One friend of mine believes that now is a good time to become a venture capitalist. Right now, the masses believe that the VCs fleeced them out of their hard-earned cash. Opinionis still split on whether this occurred because the VCs were feeble-minded simpletons or high-pressure con artists, but neither option is what I would consider flattering.

Yet his contrarian stance is well-supported. Entrepreneurship isn't going away, and valuations are a lot more reasonable (for the VCs at least!) now that the bubble has burst. Furthermore, a look at the history of the VC industry reveals that many of the greatest venture investments of all time (Cisco comes to mind) were made during difficult economic times.

As a entrepreneur, you'll often find yourself in the contrary position. Just make sure that your beliefs are well-supported, and stick to your guns, and you'll find success.

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