The Man In The Arena

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Yossi Vardi is one of the people I’ve had the pleasure to get to know since starting TechCrunch. You can find him at technology events worldwide – just look for the smiling, wild-haired guy surrounded by a pack of people.

To understand what he has accomplished, see his wikipedia entry. He is most famous for being the original investor in ICQ, but he’s also invested in over 60 other companies.

Yossi was generous enough with his time to join our panel of experts at TechCrunch40 last month. At one point in the discussion of a group of startups he quoted Theodore Roosevelt from a 1910 speech given in Paris, and drew an analogy to today’s entrepreneurs:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

I spoke with Yossi this week and asked him about his investment approach. He generally invests in young entrepreneurs and only takes common stock. If someone has failed before he’s even more likely to invest – “It makes them want to win even more,” he said. He generally doesn’t look at business plans at all, and just invests in the individual.

I am not nearly as eloquent as Roosevelt or as smart as Vardi, but the words ring true to me, and it was a very special moment at the conference when Vardi spoke about this. If you are an entrepreneur (or think you may be), forget the critics (even us) and the naysayers and just do what your heart tells you to do. You may be wasting your time, but at least you got into the arena. And if you fail, make sure you fail while “daring greatly.” Then, get into the arena again, having learned from your mistakes.

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