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A new envisagement of the world
Though conventionally thought of as an explorer, Columbus might more accurately be described as an enormously influential (and lucky, perhaps even failed) entrepreneur. He pursued an unconventional idea, took a risk, made a huge miscalculation, got lucky, and parlayed all that into wealth from product lines he hadn’t anticipated.
More importantly, his journey fueled the eternal sunshine of the entrepreneur’s mind, writ large. If he were Steve Jobs we’d say he ‘created a platform’ for others to dream and build and change the world.
Here’s how Samuel Eliot Morison put it in his 1943 Pulitzer Prize biography, Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus:
At the end of 1492 most men in Western Europe felt exceedingly gloomy about the future. Christian civilization appeared to be shrinking in area and dividing into hostile units as its sphere contracted. For over a century there had been no important advance in natural science and registration in the universities dwindled as the instruction they offered became increasingly jejune and lifeless. Institutions were decaying, well-meaning people were growing cynical or desperate, and many intelligent men, for want of something better to do, were endeavoring to escape the present through studying the pagan past. . . .
Yet, even as the chroniclers of Nuremberg were correcting their proofs from Koberger’s press, a Spanish caravel named Nina scudded before a winter gale into Lisbon with news of a discovery that was to give old Europe another chance. In a few years we find the mental picture completely changed. Strong monarchs are stamping out privy conspiracy and rebellion; the Church, purged and chastened by the Protestant Reformation, puts her house in order; new ideas flare up throughout Italy, France, Germany and the northern nations; faith in God revives and the human spirit is renewed. The change is complete and startling: “A new envisagement of the world has begun, and men are no longer sighing after the imaginary golden age that lay in the distant past, but speculating as to the golden age that might possibly lie in the oncoming future.”
John Greathouse extends the analogy at Forbes, describing Ferdinand and Isabella as early venture capitalists who looked for “surprisingly similar characteristics” as modern investors do. He advises entrepreneurs not to pitch their ideas to venture capitalists:
Ideas are infinite, and in the absence of competent execution, they are worth nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. Conversely, money in pursuit of outsized returns is plentiful. Thus, if both ideas and money are abundant, what is the scarce constraint in the fundraising equation?
Trust… If you are fortunate to pitch a sophisticated investor in person, assume they already believe in the veracity of your idea, the market and the underlying technological trends. Unless an investor specifically asks you to educate them regarding your space, focus your pitch on why you and your team are uniquely qualified to exploit the opportunity and turn the idea into a lucrative, self-sustaining business…
The second time Christopher Columbus pitched Ferdinand and Isabella (two years after his initial presentation – raising money has always taken patience and persistence), he did not need to convince them that locating a shortcut to the spice routes of India was a good idea. Rather, he had to belie their primary concerns: was he honest, tenacious and competent enough to execute the journey?
While we do retain some interest in hearing about the idea – the details in the pitch reveal important things about the entrepreneur – we agree about the primacy of some of the intangibles in a good long-term partnership. To cite just a few about which we’ve written: integrity, transparency, trustworthiness, enthusiasm and tenacity, self-awareness, and flexible persistence.