Throughout my life I have always been amazed at the fact that truth is almost always the exact opposite of what is intuitively obvious. Nowhere is that more true than in the world of entrepreneurship. Being able to call one’s self an “entrepreneur” has become one of the most desirable cliches in the last few years. It’s hard not be infatuated with the idea of pulling one’s self up by their bootstraps and become successful through hard work and spilling a little blood, sweat and tears. I think much of the entrepreneur hullabaloo is a backlash by people laid off during the Great Depression and seeking to prove to themselves of their own “superior” ideas and skills. Scared of an economy and society that is changing at breakneck speed that’s only accelerating. Some so-called “entrepreneurs” are simply people infatuated with working for themselves. Others, ironically, see franchising as entrepreneurship, which is laughable at best since you still are hindered by someone else’s rules. It’s little wonder that so many of these “pseduo-petreneurs” find themselves working for “the man” again eventually. Entrepreneurship is more than just taking money out of savings, starting a business, and then getting rich by working 80 hour weeks.
Real entrepreneurship is, in my most humble of opinions, fundamentally about doing what no else is doing. It’s about filling a niche or doing something in such a way that is so fundamentally different from the rest of the industry that you force tectonic shifts. It’s not just about changing the world, it’s about improving the world. It’s not about just connecting the dots, it’s about re-arranging the dots to create a reality that would not exist without the entrepreneur’s idea and ability to productize and market that idea.
And here is the real kicker. And what sets successful entrepreneurs from, well, the not successful ones. Successful entrepreneurs, though blessed with a good idea, don’t succeed under their own steam. Entrepreneurship is not about finding success from pulling one’s self up by the bootstraps. The world of the 21st century is way more complicated and the romantic notion of the lone inventor changing the world alone has been relegated to history. Entrepreneurs have to be better about dealing with people than dealing with technology. It’s about building business relationships but making them feel like personal relationships. It’s not about rugged individualism, but rather passionate collectivism. Still interested in being an entrepreneur? Here are some other challenges.
Do you deal with repeated failure well? Can you accept that you can and will be wrong? Can you deal with criticism well? Are you willing to accept that you aren’t the smartest guy in the room? Can you stomach naysayers and curmudgeons who either can’t or purposefully won’t understand your vision? If you answered yes to all these questions, then you might just have the right attitude to be a successful entrepreneur. Next up, the most critical aspect of entrepreneurship, dealing with people. Whether it is business partners, employees, customers, suppliers or distributors; you can’t become successful on your own. Do you know how to work with millenials? Those don’t just think outside the box, but don’t even know what a box is? Those who are unafraid to speak their mind? And can you do so in way that builds mutual respect and trust? Those who just think differently? If you are going to lead a successful business you had better be able to else you’ll be back to that corner cubicle in no time. This is why so many people who come large corporations and the military have such a difficult time becoming successful entrepreneurs. People who are used to working in an organization with an artificial hierarchical structures that imposes certain responsibilities to people simply by having that person encumber a certain position can find the lack of structure in an start-up environment to be off putting.
Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. It’s hard because of the paranoia most people have of being wrong. Most people hate being wrong. But not the entrepreneur. They see failure as simply discovering ways that don’t work to solve a certain problem,they see it as part of the process, not an end state. In short, be prepared to embrace repeated failure. But also don’t forget that your grand ideas are 1% of the equation, knowing how to execute on the vision is 9%, and building the relations to sustain success is the other 90%. So can you hack it knowing that great ideas are the a fraction of being a successful entrepreneur? Can you stomach that people and relationships are the majority?