Case Study: A Mad Scientist Entrepreneur

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There are many types of entrepreneurs. You can categorize them in terms of resourcefulness, resistance to stress, ability to convince other people and so on. Some of them are more tenacious in pursuing their goals than the others. And there is one completely disparate group - Mad Scientist Entrepreneurs.

A few years ago I had the pleasure of having an in depth conversation with one of the Caribbean’s foremost serial entrepreneurs. Sunday evenings became custom to meet at one of his top restaurant chains to have a cappuccino and a maduro du jour. He is from a top business family, but is regarded as a black sheep for having gone so deeply into diverse retail, as the family up to that point was strictly known as a finance family business. Sometimes genius can be mistaken for madness. Anyway, he decided to give me the full life story on how he branched out into retail. I listened. And it is a story worth sharing.

Climbing The Ladder

It was the mid 80s. He loved burgers. He loved burgers so much that he would fly to Miami as often as possible to have McDonalds and Burger King. At that point no one brought either franchise to the West Indies, possibly for nationalization reasons during that period – it was a very recessionary period in the region. And local businesses were not as diversified as they are now in Latin America and the Caribbean. The main multinational fast food retailer in the region was KFC, with a very limited menu. Our serial entrepreneur decided he needed to open his own fast food chains. Not one store, a regional chain. He approached the two top retailers mentioned above, explained to them who he was, what sort of business backing he came from, and asked them…if he could initially be their janitor at one of their top fast food chains.

WHAT?” I choked on my coffee.

One retailer agreed, with certain contractual obligations. He needed to be the best janitor ever, and for a few months he mopped floors and cleaned tables. After this, he asked to be reviewed to do backroom duties. He graduated to sorting frozen food. Then he graduated preparing meals. After that he was promoted to being front office customer service. Then to assistant manager. He did all of this on 1980s minimum wage. His family temporarily disowned him and wanted him to seek psychiatric help. After the needed time to completion, he returned home and did as planned. He opened a local burger chain that became such a hit! He did the same process for pizza, the same for cafes and restaurants, and for all other retail business he entered. Start from the lowly, meager bottom of the chain and work up to managerial customer service. Now his chains are as popular as the foreign restaurant retailers that have flooded the market. His crazy plan worked. Wow. That is tenacity!

A Special Case

This is one example of a Mad Scientist Entrepreneur (MSE). This entrepreneur sees the missing need as an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Driven by mad passion, he is willing to do literally everything that it takes to fill the need on a grand scale. Other non-mad entrepreneurs may see the need to be filled and partner or JV with an existing competitor, or may buy a franchise. But the Mad Scientist Entrepreneur must have things totally his or her way, and then some. I mean, wouldn’t it have been easier to approach the multinational retailer and request a franchise? I think so, since the restaurant chain entered the region eventually. But then, I’m not an MSE – I am an avid supporter of MSEs.

It’s not easy to understand MSEs, especially when most of us have grown up with a linear structure of what is and is not supposed to be done socially and professionally. Elon Musk is a stellar example of an MSE. He has out-of-space thinking, mad passion, off-the-chain self confidence, strong persuasion and key networking. From turning his frat house into a nightclub, to being a key player in Fintech via Paypal, to SpaceX and yes, to Tesla Motors’ self driving cars…no words can describe. The opportunity is there and no one can really see it…unless it’s an MSE.

Long Promised Road

Tenacity. That’s the only way I can describe it. While I do believe that many entrepreneurs can be made, MSEs are born with this. The ones who have the mad light of innovation switched on from the time they can read the alphabet, or even before.

If you ever see anyone displaying behaviors of an MSE, the need to venture into unknown territories with great self-confidence, the ability to spot countless opportunities in possibly nonexistent fields, the willingness to do seemingly base duties to learn every nook and cranny of a business, I ask you to encourage them. So many MSEs were bullied and ostracized as youngsters because of their ideas and behaviors. And so many of them have given us the products and services that we never thought possible. Maybe you are an in-the-closet MSE. Hey, Colonel Sanders was a raving fried chicken lunatic to most people until age 65 when the first KFC was established – and you know the rest of the story!


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