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Entrepreneurship is for everyone

Apr 07 2015 07:27
Ian Mann

Crazy is a Compliment: The Power of Zigging When Everyone Else Zags, by Linda Rottenberg

LINDA Rottenberg is the founder and CEO of a global organisation, Endeavor, that promotes, assists and educates entrepreneurs. Endeavor has offices in 45 cities around the world, employing 350 people and 5 000 volunteer mentors. Rottenberg has worked with many of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, financiers and not-so-successful entrepreneurs. Her understanding of the field is not based on studies alone, but on the experience of working with entrepreneurs.

Her view is “entrepreneurship is for everyone”.

She describes four different arenas in which entrepreneurs operate, so she does not exclude a raft of people who are entrepreneurs even if they never thought of themselves in those terms. These people are no less entrepreneurial and have no fewer problems than the classic entrepreneur.

Rottenberg refers to the classic entrepreneurs as the “Gazelles” who start new businesses and aim to grow them into something gigantic, like Home Depot or Facebook.

There are the “Skunks”, who work in existing businesses and take assertive risks to turn their innovative ideas into a profitable product or service.

The amiable “Dolphins” are the social entrepreneurs who build new and exciting non-profits with the same enthusiasm and creativity as for-profit businesses. These include Teach for America with a budget of $350m, which has some of the smartest graduates from America’s finest universities queuing for the opportunity of teaching in difficult schools.

The “Butterflies” are the millions of people who start their own plumbing business, yoga school or any number of other small businesses, and may employ only themselves or a few others.

This book deliberately avoids being either a primer for entrepreneurs complete with “how to” lists or an “inspirational graduation speech”. It is a brutally honest account of what goes into being an entrepreneur, seen through the experiences of a wide range of real people across the globe, and across industries.

The first two sections deal with the harsh work of an entrepreneur, and contain some of the most poignant, realistic and valuable lessons I have seen gathered in one place.

Entrepreneurship starts with one person - you. It does not start with the plan of the great venture that you will present to your family or an angel investor. Business plans rank no higher than 2 out of 10 as a predictor of a new venture’s success. Entrepreneurs start by doing something, by taking action. Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, says: “If you are not embarrassed by your first product, you’ve waited too long.”

However, the entrepreneur clearly needs to de-risk the venture. As Richard Branson wrote: “If you are a risk-taker, the art is to protect the downside.” Rather than “betting the farm” on the venture, 61% of founders of the Inc 500 list of the fastest-growing private companies in the United States in 2013 invested less than $10 000 in their start-ups.    

An early chapter in the book is “Chaos is your friend…” Great businesses have been built in the worst of times. The widow who created the first true champagne, Veuve Clicquot, did so during the Russian invasion of France (“Veuve” is widow in French). Michael J Fox founded his Foundation for Parkinson’s Reseach when at 30 he became a victim of the disease. Following the economic meltdown in Greece in 2009, 41 000 new businesses were formed. Waiting until the time is right, might well be wrong – chaos is your friend, be it political, personal, or economic.

Just as there are four arenas in which entrepreneurs operate, they can have one of four personality types. It is important to identify the type you fit into, because all types come with great strengths and weaknesses. The real value of the typology lies in the problems your strengths carry with them, a few of which are described below.

“Diamonds” include Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Ted Turner (CNN), and Elon Musk. Diamonds are “brilliant dreamers who start bold, disruptive organisations”. Diamonds may not be open to feedback or criticism, and may not be open to sharing the credit with others. Apple designer Jonny Ive observed Jobs publically talking about ideas as his own, when in fact they were ideas Ive had shared with him.

“Stars” include Oprah Winfrey, Richard Branson and Estee Lauder. These are “dynamic trendsetters with big personalities… They know what is coming in the culture; they are two steps ahead of everyone else.” Stars raise the problem of the cult of one person, and the problem of growing a business beyond the person and their vision, too often unsustained by data and analysis.

“Transformers” include Howard Schultz (Starbucks) and Ray Kroc (McDonalds). They typically take existing concepts and transform them through innovation and modernisation. Often (but not in the case of Schultz and Kroc) the transformations run into the same problems as the older versions, or don’t have a solid business model.

“Rocketships” include Jeff Bezoz, Bill Gates, and Michael Dell. They are “penetrating thinkers who apply a lazer focus on metrics to accelerate growth and change. They are tinkerers and fixers, with a relentless drive towards efficiency.” All exude a confidence that may spill over to overconfidence, and their obsession with efficiency sometimes leaves no room for creativity and passion.

This book is a treasure trove of important information. It covers, among many other important issues, the inevitable roadblocks, speed bumps and failures that confront entrepreneurs. It describes how the exceptional have dealt with these inevitable trials, and how many have failed to do so.

You will recognise yourself in the examples. You will gain valuable insights. You will learn a great deal. I know I did.

Readability:     Light --+-- Serious
Insights:         High --+-- Low
Practical:        High --+-- Low

*Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy and is the author of Strategy that Works. Views expressed are his own.

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