Homeland and The Long Game

Because Abu Nazir is playing the long game. This way no one expects a thing. –Carrie Mathison, Homeland

I missed the Season 3 premiere of Homeland last night. It’s one of my favorite shows in recent memory. For those that don’t watch it, the main plot is this: a POW returns home after 7-8 years from the Iraq War. One CIA agent (Carrie Mathison) suspects that the POW is actually a Manchurian Candidate-esque operative of Abu Nazir, a fictional Osama Bin Laden-like character. Mathison’s hypothesis is that Abu Nazir is an evil genius willing to do what the other guy isn’t. In short, he’s playing “the long game.” If you watch both Seasons 1 +2, Nazir proves that he is willing to do some Keyser Soze-like shit.

The term “building a long-term business” has become as much as a punchline in Silicon Valley as “changing the world.” Entrepreneurs, investors (like me) and others use the term casually and you wonder if they know what this takes or what it means. Some entrepreneurs think it means building something for ten years or so. And it’s true – ten years is an eternity in technology. But ten years is also the lifespan of companies like Sun Microsystems and Silicon Graphics. For those born after 1980, these were the Facebook and Google of their time. Every hotshot engineer from Stanford wanted to work there. And now, they don’t even exist – much less register on anyone’s historical radar.

Tom Perkins of Kleiner Perkins talked about how he couldn’t fully raise his first VC fund because people didn’t understand him. Ron Conway tells me the story of how back in 1998, people basically thought he was in the looney bin. He was a virtual outcast. There were no angel investors who invested for a living – there were no seed funds, microVCs, etc. People dismissed it and him – calling it “spray and pray.” That was nearly 20 years ago.

Taking these two anecdotes, building a long-term business requires that you’re not only willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time, you’re also willing to be mocked or ridiculed (all behind your back, of course). It takes a thick skin, and a will to do what the other person wouldn’t.