Entrepreneur — “An individual who introduces something new in the economy- a method of production not yet tested by experience in the branch of manufacture concerned, a product with which consumers are not yet familiar, a new source of raw material or of new markets and the like.” — Joseph A. Shumpetor
In my last blog article, I suggested that there was a great need for Australia to enter an entrepreneurial phase. I also suggested that there will be people in medium and large organisations that will need to reconsider their careers due to changes in the economy. So can these people become the entrepreneurs that help lift Australia into a new economic era?
The answer is yes, but there is a critical dependency. That being – mindset change. In this series of blogs, I want to share some ideas about the mindset that is critical for founders of start-ups which has worked effectively for me.
Not all, but many organisations, unconsciously or consciously discourage their people to be entrepreneurial. Many entities desire commercial but not entrepreneurial ability. In many ways the approach required to function successfully as an employee within the highly structured and process focused organisation is diametrically opposed to that required when starting or recreating a business. Especially in terms of risk taking.
My experiences with entrepreneurial people is that their approach to the work day is rarely settled. Personally speaking, my best ideas come at 4am on international flights, when running on the treadmill or enjoying a walk up a steep mountain. In fact, my most creative ideas turn up at the strangest times. My clarity always appears after moments, days or months of extreme confusion and emotion.
HOW DO I KNOW THAT I HAVE IT IN ME TO BE AN ENTREPRENEUR?
Here are my seven tips for considering whether or not your next role is that of an entrepreneur.
1. I want you to be clear that you actually want to be an entrepreneur. OK, you want to make money and your mark, but are you really ready to go through all of the below? This is going to be a journey that not all newcomers survive.
2. I want you to consider your own personality and personal preferences. Entrepreneurs need to be comfortable with living through highs and lows, self doubt and the doubt of others as well as be prepared to change course radically when required. If you are steady and ‘careful as you go’ type of person, the entrepreneurial life is unlikely to be your thing. This does not mean you can’t run a business, but simply that you are unlikely to be overly comfortable with the required inventing and reinventing of your products and yourself.
3. You need to be determined and a long term thinker. I remember being told if it doesn’t give you returns within the first six months, ditch it. Bulls**t! It can take 3 to 15 years to start enjoying the fruits of a great business idea and the real money often comes upon sale of the business. You need to make sure that your partner, family or others who take the journey with you really understand this.
4. You must create or subscribe to a business idea that is ultimately credible to you. You must believe in your heart of hearts that when people tell you ‘it wont work’ or ‘to go get a real job’ that your hunch is strong enough. You shouldn’t be obsessed with market research and competitor analysis. But your hunch needs a basis. For example, with World Learning Hub, I had three hunches. These were:
• That E-Learning was an important phase in the human learning cycle, but that most of it on the market was pretty hum drum
• There was a generation who would be hugely receptive to quality animated and game style learning
• I could leverage well off my past experience in corporate education to make some early sales.
That was it, my three hunches. After that I created what I wanted, and only once I had built my own prototypes did I look at the products being developed by the competition in any detail. I wanted to be pure and true to my vision and then refine it. If I reinvented the wheel, at least I could say I had the idea myself.
5. You must be prepared financially to make it work. I was resolute in not seeking start-up funds from ‘arm’s distance’ investors. I really didn’t want that pressure. When I first founded iHR Australia, I set up two businesses. One was a personal consulting business and the other was iHR. I got some long term contracts with my personal business and performed well enough to support my young family and slowly build iHR. It took away the cash flow pressure and allowed me to methodically structure the iHR business. It took three years longer but I had total control of my core business which was important to me.
6. You need to be brave. Being brave means you really need to try things, sometimes fail, then come back again. You need to be able to take legitimate risks based on hunches and you need to attempt the odd ‘slightly crazy’ thing from time to time. I set up a branch of iHR in Bangkok to service the Asian market. I had a hunch that Asia was approaching a new educational dawn. While some of my initial aspirations about face to face training didn’t quite eventuate, being in Bangkok provided the basis for me to develop the World Learning Hub production centre that is now beginning to produce serious numbers of animated training modules for Australia, Asia and the UK.
7. Finally, it’s unlikely that you can have two ‘equal’ entrepreneurs in the one organisation. Most entrepreneurial businesses are based on a combination of risk, ideas, discipline, hunches and reinvention. Rarely are these shared ideals along the whole journey. Instead you can have key players who may have shares or some kind of emotional investment who have, over time, demonstrated that they share your vision and will travel on your journey. Talented people that complement your talents, provide positive energy and enjoy the fruits and freedoms of working in an entrepreneurial environment. They are very hard to find!
Remember, if you can create a small entrepreneurial business that lasts five years you are in the minority. If you build a sustainable and fruitful organisation that provides a fruitful life for ten years or more you are in a 20% minority. Being an entrepreneur is a rewarding, often difficult road. It is critical that you take the right mindset into the challenge.