Published 29th February 2020
Discovering the Spirit of the Entrepreneur
I have to admit, the word entrepreneur was something for many years I used to personally cringe at. “The Apprentice” didn’t help matters (though I absolutely love the programme and was lucky enough to be in New York when the very first series was launched and remember being glued to the TV every night). But it was really for the fact that I had been fortunate enough to work closely for two very successful entrepreneurs during the late 90’s early 00’s who cashed out for hundreds of millions of pounds and in all my time I worked with them they never used the word once.
These were people who took massive risks, laid everything on the line, and came through the other side both having previous businesses that hadn’t performed well. From my perspective these were people that had earned the right to use the word, where others were metaphorically falsely laying claim to the throne. Equally I would roll my eyes when the corporate world invented the word “intrapreneur” – I think I will leave the debate and my views on that right here.
However, it was during a “reality check” session with one of my own mentors and advisors at Certus when I was told I should just accept that I was a serial entrepreneur and I should embrace that fact. The context being that I had just closed a major deal in under 48 hours, something that a big SI would have taken 6-8 weeks to agree, how? – because quite simply I was prepared to take a calculated risk and was prepared to close the opportunity there and then. How many people can actually do that? what was I complaining about? Two business failures behind me, it was now my time to be in the sun.
This blog is about providing some insight into what the essence of entrepreneurial spirit actually is. I will also touch upon when this also can become highly destructive to a business.
So how does this help you, the reader? Well hopefully it gives you some insight into the mindset, and maybe something to think about, or potentially apply in your own career.
Exploring the DNA of the Entrepreneur
For me, the essence of entrepreneurial spirit is the DNA of the entrepreneur. Consequently, you can identify a number of characteristics, but it is the totality of all of these that come together that creates the driving force.
Few people are born with every characteristic I have identified, and the list is by no means exhaustive. However, I do know there are elements that you can learn and can embrace, because I did.
Equally you still have to have a healthy appetite for calculated risk; an eye for business opportunity and naturally a willingness to actually go do something?
Passion channelled correctly by being “your authentic self” brings the human dynamic to your product, your service and ultimately to your business venture. If you are not passionate about what you do, how can you inspire others to be? Entrepreneurs are full of passion for what they do.
What does this really mean? Simply, you have to be able to make things happen and to do that you need to have and maintain a positive mindset. Even to the extent sometimes you just have to be “bloody minded” about things. Think SAS: Who Dares Wins or Rocky Balboa, and you won’t go far wrong. Delivery is absolutely everything. You have to find a way to solve the challenges in front of you. Entrepreneurs do not like to be around negative people, so they surround themselves with people who have a similar mindset and outlook.
Entrepreneurs don’t like structure or bureaucracy; indecision; lack of ownership; delay; and having someone manage them. Freedom to make your own decisions and knowing that you have to perform just to eat every day are great drivers for success. Annual appraisals don’t cut it in the world of entrepreneurs. It’s also a lens that doesn’t recognise “50 Shades of Grey” either (probably the wrong metaphor, but you get the point). You either win or lose and trust me when I say you know when you’re winning and you especially know when you are losing.
Breaking the rules, having a healthy distaste for the status quo and an open mind willing to explore whilst learning as you go. Defining a new market? even better as you get to write all your own rules as you are going along. (Big Smile)
Entrepreneur’s don’t have any hang ups regarding failure. If something you try fails, you just learn from it and move on quickly. The rule being just don’t repeat the mistake. The much-scorned old adage of “Fail Fast” has in my opinion a lot of merit when taken in the right context.
From my experience no one starts a business just to get rich. Yes, it’s a great outcome if you can make a lot of money, but if that’s your primary goal I doubt you will ever really be successful. An entrepreneur’s “drive” often comes from the simple desire to solve an annoying business problem and/or kill a customer pain point by applying and delivering a “better, cheaper, faster” solution.
To solve the problem, you have to be brave and just think differently often being prepared to go where no-one has been before or be willing to choose a path that those around you are not prepared to go. Think Robin Williams Dead Poets Society, standing on a desk “the world looks different from up there”. That’s always a good place to start.
The ability to sell a vision regardless whether you are talking to an individual or to the masses. Communication is critical and the ability to hold an intelligent, informed conversation whilst listening and taking onboard people’s opinions is vital. Remember “people buy from people”.
If you have no customers, you don’t have a business. Customers are everything, albeit I would say from my experience remember first and foremost to “look after your employees, as they will look after your customers”.
Entrepreneurs know this in abundance. They seek ways to create long term “Customer Advocacy” which is the most powerful form of marketing you can ever have.
A critical skill, and one I can’t give a definitive view on whether you are born with this, or it’s something you can learn. Being able to calculate risk, is all part of having a strong business acumen. The other elements being, primarily having the ability to see the opportunity in the first place, shape it and naturally generate profit.
To seize the day you have to be willing to take risks. Not everything you do is going to work. But to do nothing, and the outcome is certain – nothing happens. Michael Jordan’s quote of “I missed 100% of the shots I didn’t take” always comes to mind.
Entrepreneurs are not reckless cowboys, but they do look at the world through a different lens, can quickly evaluate options and the associated risk and rewards making informed decisions at pace.
The ability to see a business opportunity, move quickly and close the deal is absolutely critical. You need to know instantaneously the deal economics, so you can be confident in your pricing. No waiting around, having hundreds of people involved, multiple levels of governance, legal reviews et al before you put a price on the table. Speed is one of an entrepreneur’s greatest assets, and often an element customer’s appreciate and crave. Entrepreneur’s know this, go after the opportunity and make something happen at pace. Executing this alone often can kill the competition in a heartbeat.
Entrepreneurs mess up! but it is never about blaming someone else when something goes wrong. The buck stops with you, and an entrepreneur’s ability to be absolutely honest with themselves about where they went wrong is a critical skill.
Warning – Path to Destruction
Entrepreneurial spirit left unchecked inside a growing company can lead down a path of self-destruction. I have witnessed this first-hand. Founders of companies that start the company off and have the ability to create the vision and lead into the unknown, are sometimes not usually the best people to operate the company as it scales to the next level of maturity. When concrete thinking sets in and those that lead are not willing to listen to others, then you can end up in trouble.
Different skills are often required for scaling a company, and the smart entrepreneur knows when it is time to either exit, or to surround themselves with those who have the relevant skills to grow the company accordingly. Good corporate governance can keep this in check.
Can Anyone be an Entrepreneur?
In theory yes absolutely, in reality no. The vast majority of people are quite understandably not prepared to take the risks involved in starting up a business and do not have the required DNA. The idea of the combination of constantly living outside your comfort zone correlated to financial risk, is usually something people are just not willing to tolerate. (And quiet understandably).
There is absolutely nothing wrong with not being an entrepreneur. Everyone is different, some people want to follow this path, and others don’t. Still to this day, I don’t think being an entrepreneur is a badge of honour and it shouldn’t even be seen that way. At the end of the day it is just an adjective for describing someone. Nothing more than that.
Finally any entrepreneur will tell you that running a business is a rollercoaster ride of massive highs and lows. You often scare yourself, and sometimes others around you, but for me it’s absolutely the ultimate adrenalin drive and the most rewarding experience you can ever have. Why? because quite simply it’s the ultimate test of one’s self in business and you are walking a tightrope without a safety net!
Look forward to the comments as always…
Disclaimer: This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer. In addition, my thoughts and opinions change from time to time and I consider this a necessary consequence of having an open mind. This blog is intended to provide a semi-permanent point in time and as such any thoughts or opinions expressed within out of date posts may not be the same or similar to those that I hold today.