The buzz about entrepreneurship is everywhere nowadays -- from magazine covers to conferences, hotel lobbies to the White House, and of course, kitchen tables. The French word entrepreneur first appeared in the French dictionary in 1723 to describe a person who organizes and operates a business by taking a financial risk. Since then the word entrepreneur -- and the world -- has completely changed. Today, entrepreneurship is celebrated like never before and it is defined in so many ways -- social entrepreneurship, intra-entrepreneurship, knowledge entrepreneurship, micro-entrepreneurship -- you name it.
In 1975, Harvard professor Howard Stevenson defined entrepreneurship as "the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled." "Resources currently controlled" can be interpreted as limited resources. From that point of view, almost all of us have some level of entrepreneurial challenges.
I have been practicing entrepreneurship since I was 14 years old. I know all too well about the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources. Author Steven Pressfield (author of the Legend of Bagger Vance) writes:
"We duel adversity every day, you and I. We get bloodied; we experience casualties -- and we have to get up and find a way to fight again. We might not be wearing body armor or carrying M4 carbines, but we know in our bones that the warrior virtues of patience, resolution, tenacity, selflessness, capacity to endure hardship, etc. serve us every day of our lives."
Steven's description of the warrior's virtues describes the practice of entrepreneurship quite well. At a fundamental level all entrepreneurs try to overcome adversity to pursue opportunity with limited resources.
As a devoted student and life long practitioner of entrepreneurship, this is what I have learned over the years:
Becoming an Entrepreneur
Most ventures fail. Most entrepreneurs make a lot less money than if they worked for someone else. The road to success is often long and lonely -- brutal hours; massive amounts of stress; and a huge amount of personal sacrifice. So, why would you want to become an entrepreneur?
To Survive: In my teens and early twenties, I became an entrepreneur (although I didn't know the word or the meaning of it) to simply survive. Around the globe, many people become entrepreneurs in order to survive. They have no job prospects, or little means to earn a living. Therefore, entrepreneurship for many is the only alternative.
To Pursue a Dream: In my mid-twenties, I caught the 'Silicon Valley' bug, and I pursued my dream to become a tech entrepreneur. Many entrepreneurs (in all industries) pursue entrepreneurship to fulfill their personal dreams. They have something to prove to the world and to themselves. They have the mental and intellectual capacity, the drive and the resourcefulness to invent and to create differentiating ventures.
To Make a Difference: In my mid-thirties, the idea of entrepreneurship completely changed for me. I wanted to make a difference, to do something that has a positive and long-lasting impact. Making a difference as an entrepreneur can be very rewarding -- as all great entrepreneurs will ubiquitously agree. However, making a real difference perhaps is also the hardest to thing to do and most challenging. It requires a different kind of mindset. It is not about just making money, or becoming famous, or inventing new things. In our changing world, the definition of entrepreneurship has evolved as the need to "make a difference" has never been greater. In my travels I have met 'entrepreneurs' from all walks of life -- in government, in academia, in NGOs, in corporations, in labs, on stage, and, yes, in ventures that are quietly working away to make a difference with very limited resources.
The U.S. Army Warrior Ethos states:
- I will always place the mission first;
- I will never accept defeat;
- I will never quit; and
- I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I believe that this warrior ethos applies to an entrepreneur's personal and professional lives as well. It defines who we are and who we aspire to become. Driven by their core ethos, an entrepreneur must:
Find Resources: By making, maintaining and leveraging contacts, in both the short and long term, for mutual benefit, entrepreneurs find ways to exploit opportunities despite adversity.
Manage Risk: They accept and take responsibility for calculated risks. Great entrepreneurs are focused, learn from their mistakes, and move on without regrets. Their risk perhaps is far greater than an average person -- but they are hardly gamblers.
Create 'Wealth': The definition of wealth, capital, and value has forever changed. Money is no longer the only currency nor is the valuation of a company the only measure of wealth. Beyond financial value, entrepreneurs need to create 'wealth' with knowledge, sustainable assets, and social impact.
The Entrepreneurial Makeup
"The entrepreneur is then a complex combination of interacting factors." -- writes David Butler in his book Enterprise Planning and Development. He explains the makeup of an entrepreneur as follows:
Personality: in terms of possessing resilience, tenacity, opportunity spotting, and risk taking.
Attitude: having awareness of the importance of customer focus, the application of creativity and imagination, defined personal standards and values, the perception of enterprise as a positive activity.
Skills: such as the ability to network, to think strategically, to gain access to resources, business knowledge and acumen, interpersonal skills and people management capabilities.
Motivation: personal drive and ambition, the desire to make an impact, the need for achievement or self-satisfaction, a desire for status, to create and accumulate wealth, and social responsibility.
Butler continues, "the presence, combination and interaction of these factors will determine both the way in which an entrepreneur engages in enterprising activities, and ultimately the degree of success that will be achieved."
But at the end, there is no exact formula for entrepreneurship. It is unique for each individual. You cannot follow someone else's journey to success, either. That journey is uniquely yours and yours only.
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