The French word “entrepreneur” first appeared in the French dictionary in 1723, and defined a person who organizes and operates a business while taking a financial risk in order to do so. Since the word entrepreneur came on the scene, it has added some terms like “social entrepreneurship” and “intra-entrepreneurship” (which are terms I explain in other articles). Most simply defined, an entrepreneur is a person who identifies a need or a want and starts a business to fill that void. This simplistic definition, however, provides little insight into the specific character traits and attributes that makes a person thrive as an entrepreneur—especially one doing business in the 21st century.Before quitting my day job as an airline pilot to pursue an idea that was brewing in the back of my mind, I considered if I had the necessary fortitude to make it as an entrepreneur. As it turns out, I did. I have been practicing entrepreneurship since 1992, and teaching it as a professor since 2012. I’ve learned a lot, and I certainly know all too well about the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources. I started my first venture by doing everything I now teach not to do (e.g. I maxed out 10 credit cards, refinanced my condo, borrowed money from family, friends, and fools, etc.). At a fundamental level, all entrepreneurs try to overcome adversity to pursue opportunity with limited resources. So, unless you are comfortable with minute to minute change, incredible amounts of stress, and the uncertainty of your future financial stability, you should consider diverging from the entrepreneurial path.As a devoted student and lifelong practitioner of entrepreneurship, these are some things I have learned about over the years from truly successful 21st century entrepreneurs and mentors:
Most start-ups fail : (According to the Small Business Association only 30%of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open, 50% during the first five years and 66% during the first 10). The road to success is often long and lonely, with brutal hours, massive amounts of stress, and lots of personal/family sacrifice and debt. So, why would you want to become an entrepreneur? Well, it gives you the freedom to be your own boss and the creator of your future.
Survival as an Entrepreneur: In my late twenties, I became an entrepreneur (I started I&E Marketing Group—a reseller of phone time to airline personnel), even though I didn’t know the meaning of the word “entrepreneur,” let alone how to spell it. Nevertheless, I saw a void and filled it. In order to survive, I thought, ate, and drank telecommunications. I refined, iterated, and pivoted when needed. I NEVER gave up in the pursuit of my dream.
How to Find Resources: One can do this by making, maintaining, and leveraging contacts. Despite adversity, entrepreneurs can find ways to exploit opportunities for mutual benefit, by networking and being a great student in both the short and long runs. This is the most powerful part about entrepreneurship. The more you give back to the entrepreneurship community, the more you get!
Managing Risk: Up front research is everything to starting a successful company. But, even though research can help you avoid the pitfalls of risky ventures and save you in the long run, some mistakes are inevitable. As life and experience have come upon me, I’ve learned that great entrepreneurs are focused, learn from their mistakes, and move on without regrets. Their appetite for risk is far greater than the average person’s (although it decreases with age and experience).
To Make a Difference: In my fifties, the idea of entrepreneurship completely changed for me. I had started and sold 10 companies and was successful at my trade, but I wanted to make a difference; to do something that has a positive and long-lasting impact. I went back to school to get my MBA, and started teaching what was so freely given to me by my mentors. This required a different kind of mindset. It is not just about making money, or becoming famous, or creating new things. Making a difference as an entrepreneur has been very rewarding for me. In my travels around the world to speak about and teach entrepreneurship, I have met entrepreneurs from all walks of life–in government, in academia, corporations, labs, and on stage. All these entrepreneurs have one thing in common: they feel the desire to give back to the entrepreneurship community.
What Is the 21st Century Entrepreneur Made Of?
Personality: Entrepreneurs are risk takers and have resilience, tenacity, innovation, creativity, and the ability to identify opportunity all rolled up into one. Whatever the entrepreneur lacks, they make up for with a great employee.
Attitude: The entrepreneurial attitude is defined by personal standards and values for the company and employees; the perception of being the best, no matter what the size of your corporation is; understanding the importance of customer focus; and the desire to use and apply creativity and imagination.
Motivation: This and attitude is everything! Motivation consists of 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. I was always very aware that I was not the smartest person in the room, and I was okay with that. But, I also knew that no one—in any room—would outwork me.
Skills: These will be learned on the job and at a quick pace. You will spend many hours developing your entrepreneurial craft, but once it comes together and you learn from your mistakes, it gets better and easier. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have these few necessities: the ability to network, to think strategically, and gain access to resources, as well as possess business knowledge, interpersonal skills, and management skills.
In the end (and I hate to say it), there is no exact formula for entrepreneurship. Even in the 21st century, when entrepreneurship is a well-taught and well-respected field, the road to success has no GPS to provide you with a turn-by-turn map. Instead, entrepreneurship is as unique as each individual, and you cannot follow someone else’s journey to success. That journey is uniquely yours, and yours only.