His was the ultimate reality show, even if it was a movie. In May 1999, Kaleil D. Isaza Tuzman and his pal, Tom Herman, created GovWorks.com, an Internet site that gave the public access to government agencies. Almost as fast as it takes to click a mouse, GovWorks went from eight employees to 250 and raised more than $60 million in capital. And just as GovWorks seemed poised for greatness, it went bankrupt. This was real life, and the script of the documentary film Startup.com, which followed the two entrepreneurs through their odyssey, 24/7.
Today, Tuzman, 31, is president and managing partner of the New York City and Washington, DC-based Recognition Group, which restructures companies on the brink of disaster. He's also written Beyond Success and Failure: The Evolution of an Entrepreneur (Harvard Business School Press), due out in 2003.
What's the common denominator for companies on the brink of ruin?
Kaleil D. Isaza Tuzman: Lack of focus. I've talked to entrepreneurs of all ages, interests and backgrounds, and they tend to want to do too much at once, to be where they want to be a year ahead of when they should be [there], and to expand the scope of vision so quickly that it obscures the vision and sometimes creates a fatal blow to the project. I think that's what happened at GovWorks. The company today is called GovOne, and doing quite well, thanks to steady leadership [that has taken it] out of Chapter 11. We weren't successful in large part because I tried to do too much, too soon, all at once.
What are some warning signs that someone has a GovWorks instead of a GovOne?
Tuzman: One is the lack of plateaus in planning. Large-business managers allow for more rest periods in development. They set achievement thresholds, circle up, celebrate a little, then gear up for the next climb. Entrepreneurs sometimes try to climb the mountain nonstop, get exhausted and fall. Another signal: More than one central idea in a company's mission statement shows a lack of focus.
If I realize my company is in trouble, what should I do?
Tuzman: Get your ego out of it. You are not the business. We need to keep the right emotional distance from our companies. Entrepreneurs who have that balance are people who have their priorities straight-they put their family first, faith first or whatever. You need something that gets you back to the center, and that center is not the office. As an entrepreneur, you already have that as a major focal point. You need to counteract that force somehow. You need to annihilate it, or it will suck you into the vortex.