One of the many rewards of a lengthy career in journalism is the opportunity of meeting unusually talented people and interviewing them for publication to a wide audience. This process, which I often call a technique of “making clear thinking visible,” usually resounds to our mutual benefit. So it was with Dr. Milton Chang, entrepreneur extraordinaire and venture capitalist par excellence, who I first encountered almost two decades ago when I was the editorial director of Laser Focus World and Milton was one of the founders of New Focus Inc.
At that time, I was hoping to find someone to write a monthly column on business/management for Laser Focus World. Milton was on my “short” list and, indeed, he quickly became a regular contributor. Milton is still contributing his column for Laser Focus World, which has now metamorphosed into an extremely readable little book, Toward Entrepreneurship: Establishing a Successful Technology Business.* However, this book is much more than a collection of columns. Although the book is a mere 150 pages of tightly written text, it is the careful distillation of many years of management and investment in high-technology companies.
As the famous venture capitalist Bill Davidow of Mohr Davidow Ventures notes on the back cover of the book, “[this book] is pragmatic, practical, and in a no-nonsense way tells you how to start a company. It is sound advice from someone who has done it the right way. It demonstrates once again that experience is the best teacher.”
So I was flattered when Steve Anderson, at that time the editor-in-chief of Laser Focus World, asked me to write a review of Milton’s book. But I knew that I could not possibly write an unbiased review.
But an assignment is an assignment, so I slowly started to write a conventional book review. I’ll spare you the sordid details, but the initial attack was awful and was no credit to either myself or Milton. And then, I had a sudden brain-wave: “Why not let the author speak for himself?” So what follows are a few longer-than-usual excerpts that, I hope, will give you the essential Milton Chang.
Milton Chang on: ideas
“Never reject ideas out of hand; or, at the other extreme, [do not] rationalize to ignore warning signs that your idea may not be as viable as you thought initially. Trust your gut. Learn to temper your zealousness by finding reasons why an idea won’t work.”
Milton Chang on: getting going
“Keep operations simple and stay focused...Never forget that you are out of business when you are out of money.”
Milton Chang on: getting out
“Once a decision is made to exit, there can be no return. Although the news will make people anxious about what lies ahead, it may also arouse excitement that finally things are going to get better.”
Milton Chang on: philosophy
“I like to draw an analogy between my life as an entrepreneur and business coach with that of a Sherpa in the Himalayas. As a young man I would charge up the mountain carrying the heaviest load; later on, I would be happy to be just a guide; and in my old age, I would puff on a pipe while telling stories to anyone who would listen.”
In my view, Milton Chang is far from retiring to the Himalayas. Actually, I see this book as a keystone for a larger and more comprehensive set of books to be called something like “The Milton Chang Guide to Starting, Running and Selling of High-tech Businesses.” What say, Milton?
*If you have difficulty locating a copy of this book, it may be purchased directly from the author’s web site at www.miltonchang.com for $35.00.