Guy Kawasaki: “I’m Not a Visionary; I’m a Marketer”

Guy Kawasaki, a founding partner of Garage Technology Ventures and a prolific writer (his seventh book, Reality Check, “drops” next week), is also a nice guy by pretty much everyone’s accounting.

Kawasaki is refreshingly frank at times, too. Certainly, that’s been the case in a series of exchanges that he’s been having over the last couple of weeks with New York Times reporter Marci Alboher, who condensed their conversations into an online small business column today.

Some highlights:

Q. When someone comes to you with a business idea or a request for advice, what traits or behaviors are immediate tip-offs to you that someone has the entrepreneurial gene, or is lacking it?

A. The more I meet with entrepreneurs the less I think I can pick them. Sure, there are stereotypes: bright, aggressive, enthusiastic, young, etc. But there are many successful entrepreneurs that don’t come off this way.

The richest vein I have seen is two guys/gals who want to create a tool that they themselves want to use. This describes, for example, Google, Yahoo, and Apple. I have come to believe that almost everyone has the entrepreneurial gene — it’s been necessary for survival for thousands of years.

The issue is whether that gene is expressed, and the only way to really “know” is with retroactive, after-the-fact analysis. Unfortunately, venture capital doesn’t work this way. You take your best shot and pray — then you thank God if you’re right a few times.

Q. Other than the obvious, like renewable sources of energy, can you predict some sectors where you expect to see the next wave of entrepreneurial activity?

A. I can’t. I’m not a visionary à la Steve Jobs. I’m a marketer. Hopefully I can recognize visions that can sell, but I can’t predict the next big thing until someone shows it to me.

Q. You have strong opinions on what makes a successful pitch — for everything from writing a business plan to hiring the right people to closing a deal or giving a presentation. Give us some of your golden rules for pitching.

A. There are only two golden rules of pitching — whoever obeys these rules gets the gold. First, be able to explain in 30 seconds what your company does. Almost no one is capable of doing this. Second, when using PowerPoint, use 10 slides that you can cover in 20 minutes with fonts no smaller than 30 points. It’s called the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint. Almost no one does this either.

Q. You dedicate a few amusing chapters in Reality Check to lies told by entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, lawyers, engineers, business partners and C.E.O.’s. With all this rampant lying, are you suggesting that artful lying and lie-detecting are part of the game that entrepreneurs need to master?

A. If an entrepreneur’s lips are moving, she’s probably lying — though she may not know it. Part of being an entrepreneur is that you have to lie — first of all to yourself. You have to tell yourself that you can create something, people can build it, customers will buy it and you can collect the money.

If you cannot ignore the naysayers who tell you that it can’t be done, it shouldn’t be done, it isn’t necessary, you can’t be an entrepreneur. One of the best ways to ignore is to lie and deny.