ENTREPRENEUR – A term used far too lightly and what right do you have to call yourself one… and how does this go-at-it-alone philosophy affect SA digital?
We all go through stages where we latch onto a word or phrase and over-use it to the point where it loses its impact or real meaning. One example that comes to mind immediately is the word awesome. Awe is defined as ‘an overwhelming feeling of wonder and admiration’ or ‘a feeling of profound respect.’ Suffice to say the burger you just wolfed down, no matter how delicious is not awesome.
Another term which is suffering at the hands of over and incorrect use is entrepreneur.
Do a quick search on Twitter as to the number of people who include the word entrepreneur in their profile. It’s a wonder the global economy is in such a precarious position given how many entrepreneurs are broadcasting their brilliant existence via social media.
Let’s be honest, there are some fundamental criteria for being identified by society, rather than just by you and your mum, as an entrepreneur.
The makings of an adventurer
You are someone who has put their financial neck on the line, be it your house, savings or little Timmy’s university fund. You have put your existing career or job at risk by actively pursuing an idea, opportunity or vision. Prominent American political economist Robert B Reich defined the meaning as someone who also possess strong qualities in the areas of leadership, management, team building and has the ability to succeed, albeit success is never guaranteed.. .
Entrepeneur is therefore a rather big compliment to give yourself, as you are essentially saying as your career description ‘I am an all round brilliant human being who was clever enough to have (or take) a great idea and build it through my extemporary vision, skills in people and structural management. Did I also mention my strong leadership and mentoring skills?’
Entrepreneur (a good one – as surely there has to be varying types) is not a title you should bestow upon yourself, instead it should be a term that someone might describe you as, in recognition of your achievements and the multiple qualities described above. I believe that Richard Branson is of course a great entrepreneur, I also believe that Kylie has a wonderful bottom, neither of which I’m guessing they choose to lob into introductory conversations about themselves.
There are of course people like Branson who genuinely are referred to by all as an entrepreneur, and have every right to use that label to describe themselves should they wish. But let’s be honest we’re in minority territory here and even the best generally don’t.
Entrepreneur must not be confused with a business starter, business owner, having an idea, freelancing, or anything else that falls outside traditional employment. Also, don’t confuse entrepreneurial with being an entrepreneur. Likewise the word ‘serial entrepreneur’ is also increasingly making the rounds of business lexicon in a thoroughly meaningless way. You are either an entrepreneur or you are not. You cannot be a serial doctor or a serial accountant.
Which brings me to entrepreneurial. The way most people refer to themselves as an ‘entrepreneur’ would define my housekeeper as an ‘entrepreneur’ and a good one at that. Whenever we need more help (extra cleaning, gardening, etc) she pulls in her friends and family and takes a cut of the wages.
She may not fit all of the qualities defined here for being a true entrepreneur but it certainly ticks a lot of boxes and she is surely more worthy of being labeled an entrepreneur than most who use that label so easily. Instead I would view her business acumen and practice as being entrepreneurial.
So, given that entrepreneur is such a widely abused term in SA which has been diluted to mean ‘going at it alone in some way’, I would like to highlight the danger within industry sectors where ‘entrepreneurship’ (from now on: going-at-it-aloneship) is widely promoted and glamourised. This buzz and promotion is flippantly given and seen by many as the answer to the country’s economic challenges, which in under privileged areas it may well be, but in over privileged areas such as digital and advertising I strongly disagree.
This glamorising of ‘go-it-aloneship’ is irresponsible and should be promoted with caution, not unlike gambling. The difference is that gambling comes with a health warning (responsible gambling) and so should the promotion of ‘go-at-it-aloneship’ as it is just as dangerous and frequently produces more losers than winners.
Responsibly promoting this ‘go-at-it-aloneship’ should at the very least be to those who tick the big boxes of entrepreneurial flair, have a lower risk of failure and crucially understand all of the risks both financial and personal.
At least gamblers have support structures and help lines for when things go wrong, ‘go-at-it-aloners’ do not! We have warnings all over any financial and investment adverts as well as the aforementioned highly regulated gambling industry. But what gives us the right to glamourise and oversimplify the fine art of business success with so much financial and personal collateral at risk?
My next point is that the promotion of ‘go-at-it-aloneship’ creates talent dilution, not least in industries with an already starving talent pool. There is no doubt that when great minds and visionaries get together, amazing things can and do happen.
Diluting strengths vs capitalising on them
In my industry, the digital industry, where we already have a huge talent shortage, the very best people that you would really want in your team are already ‘going-at-it-aloners,’ and to be fair in a few exceptional cases, worthy tech and digital entrepreneurs.
What this creates is something that continues to dilute our depth and quality versus world class digital standards.
It does that by fragmenting great brains through the creation of hundreds of small digital companies or talent silos, headed up by the ‘going-at-it-aloner’, each of which is consumed with the 50% wastage of running that business. Less time for digital brilliance and breakthroughs when you have to invoice, pay salaries, keep the VAT man happy and so on.
More often than not our gifted but creatively lonely ‘go-at-it- aloner’ is the sole driver without the benefit of true collaborative and strategic business thinking, resulting in offerings that can quite often only be extremely niche, spread too thin or competing in an overcrowded and competitive market fighting for the same small slice of pie.
The beauty of teamwork
Don’t underestimate the time, money and the collective brains required to be truly digitally innovative and deliver world class products and campaigns on a large scale. With very few exceptions, these silos will never unlock the true potential of the visionary spearheading them.
The best analogy for the digital industry in South Africa? What we should and could be as an industry is an FC Barcelona, World Cup winners Spain, Manchester United or the entire Premier League in football terms. In essence a team made up of the cream of the crop.
Instead we have a culture of ‘go-at- it-aloneship’ that tells each of these players that they can easily setup and manage teams themselves, make lots of money, all run their own stadiums and cleaning staff and then perhaps a Russian billionaire will come and buy them for squillons of dollars. In most cases, this may spawn the odd (but rare) good team, many mediocre ones and lots of minnows, struggling to attract fans and financial returns and of course scrapping over world class team talent.
The reality is the greatness of those teams lies in the collaborative teamwork of all those combined talents which unite to create something truly world class.
Of course FC Barcelona and Manchester United wouldn’t exist if someone hadn’t started the team, but you get my point.
So what then is the answer?
Instead of blindly promoting the ‘go-at-it-alone it will be great’ philosophy, there needs to be other outlets for entrepreneurial minded individuals.
Companies need to look at promoting and harnessing the essence of entrepreneurial spirit. Offering infrastructure and the relevant rewards, ownership and control for people with the added benefit of personal de-risking with a ‘not so hard landing’ should it not work out
I believe that true entrepreneurs can be born and housed within companies, they too will need to fit the criteria as discussed, and they still carry risk, it may not be monetary, but in order to succeed as a true entrepreneur you will always be making some kind of personal sacrifice. Keeping the brains and entrepreneurial drive together can only mean great things for digital or any other industry on the world stage.
Alternatively, in a land of ‘go-at-it-aloneship’, most of those labeling themselves tech and digital ‘entrepreneurs’ need to drop the self appointed labels and look to create an ‘entrpreurlaboration’ approach where by collaborating and joining these small silos of great talents would deliver creative solutions, products and ideas far greater than the sum of the parts.
As a rule of thumb, for collaboration to be effective it requires leadership. Not typically ‘do as I say’ leadership but rather a form that is social or decentralized, a form of leadership that can be liquid and malleable. By that I mean where a skill set is strong a natural leadership will be formed and where that person was weaker they would automatically look to support the leadership of another in the group more suited to particular task with the shared goal of a common vision.
The collective, collaborative leadership should all of our ‘go-at-it aloners’ work with an entrepreurlaboration approach would have a profound effect on South Africa’s digital landscape and its global competitiveness
Why? Because it is a way of coordinating ideas from the best of breed to generate wider and more impactful knowledge. Think of it as an ongoing brainstorm with the best and brightest brains in the field, with people who have insight and the willing to take what’s inside your head and make it better.
Collaboration with a selected few firms as opposed to collaboration with a large number of different firms has repeatedly been shown to positively impact firm performance and innovation outcomes.
Neither of the above are likely, but the constant dilution of our nations great brains in this way is detrimental to a country trying to claim it’s rightful place in the global digital economy, but if you must go at it alone, please do it with caution, it’s hard out there
For all of you self-labeled ‘entrepreneurs’, let us instead park the egotistical titles and work harder to make the digital landscape greater. Entrepeurlaboration can create true digital greatness for South Africa and within that is there is still room for others to think of you and label you as a true entrepreneur.
Build Solid Back-Room Basics For Business Success
What do South African entrepreneurs really know about what goes on behind the scenes building of businesses?
South Africa has a vibrant start-up culture with great ideas starting out with a bang, but closing down with a whimper because entrepreneurs picture the glory at the destination, but not the nitty gritty of the journey to get there.
Be smart about scale
When I started out, I literally did everything myself. I negotiated and signed leases, I arranged the furnishing for our apartments and managed the interior décor process. When guests started using our apartments, I signed them in at reception, and then carried their bags.
At that stage, there was no money in my business to pay for attorneys, interior designers and decorators and there certainly wasn’t enough money for porters.
However, when we got to 70 apartments, it didn’t make sense for me to be a porter any longer, so I hired someone to do that job, explaining clearly what I expected of him. Before I did that, though, I spent time designing incentives for him so that he would be more affordable for me, and so that he could earn as much money as possible.
Related: Training Is A Two-Way Trick
Know your talents – and your limitations
There are certain things I’m really good at, but I know without a doubt that sales isn’t one of them – and without sales, you don’t have a business. I couldn’t afford a top-flight salesperson, but I knew that I could attract the right talent with the right business model. I set some high targets for Pamela Niemand, but offered her one third of the business if she met them. We both won: she earned a share in a successful, trend-setting business, and my trend-setting business became successful!
Use your skills – but know when to hand over
My background in corporate finance meant that I had all the accounting skills I needed when we first started out, but I knew that the time would come when I would need someone focused on that side of the business full time. Doing it all myself first meant that I could brief my first full-time accountant clearly and with a deep understanding of what would be required – and that I could help that person find and fix any challenges based on my experience.
In summary, my simple advice to anyone starting out would be to bootstrap your business yourself without investors or staff for as long as you can, but don’t over-extend yourself. Know when to delegate tasks away so that you can focus on what you’re really good at – but don’t do it before you have a solid understanding of what’s required. Know what you’ll never be able to do, and bring in that resource from the beginning – but do it based on performance-based incentives, so that your fledgling business doesn’t lose out if your early hires don’t perform.
The Myth About The Relationship Between Entrepreneurs And Taking Risks
This is the true relationship between entrepreneurs and the apparent illusion of risk.
“I can’t be an entrepreneur or start a business. I don’t have the appetite for risk.” This line is spoken regularly to brave few that leave the perceived safety of a job, take the plunge and venture into the unknown world of being an entrepreneur. However, there is a gross misunderstanding in the appetite for risk that entrepreneurs are believed to have innately inside of them.
The little-known truth is that the majority of entrepreneurs don’t like taking risks and according to Luca Rigotti and Mathew Ryan in their paper that explores a model for quantifying risk and its translation into enterprising action, the results were very interesting.
Risk is explained by these theorists as taking action where the outcomes are unpredictable as well the factors leading to that outcome are unknown. One of the theorists in this area, Saraswati, who coined the term “tolerance for ambiguity” has a more accurate description of what the outside world deems taking a risk.
In simple terms, entrepreneurs don’t go head-first into the shark infested water because they like the idea of danger and potentially being eaten alive; or the thrill of being able to say that they survived whilst others perished in a pool of maimed flesh. They carefully calculate that the sharks have been fed recently, some of the sharks are ragged tooth sharks that whilst looking like they are set to devour a human being, are actually incapable of opening their jaws wide enough to bite. For those sharks that still have space or who smell blood and can’t resist the urge to kill, the entrepreneur has a cage set up that he can retreat into quickly and a knife with which to protect himself.
Tolerance for ambiguity is the careful evaluation of what is known at the moment where a decision must be made and an open-mindedness for what is not known. This, coupled with the agility to change course when new information is presented, has earned the label of high risk appetite. The appetite is not for the risk, but it is the ability to move down a path, when all the information is not known.
I likened it to a person moving around in the dark holding a candle. The candle casts a light that illuminates a limited parameter around the person holding the candle. What is beyond the light that the candle casts, is unknown and potentially a risk. But as the person moves forward, the light reveals what was unknown and in the shadows. As the light reveals new information and new challenges added to what they have already learnt, the person can make better informed decisions. The tolerance is in not knowing what lies in the shadows yet to be illuminated by the candle and then the confidence in his or her own ability to act on what new information is discovered.
None of this behaviour is risky or irresponsible. There is careful consideration for what is known and a tolerance for what is unknown. And once there is more information available, a calculated next step is taken and more information is assimilated into what is now known. This is the true relationship between entrepreneurs and the apparent illusion of risk.
7 Skills Every Entrepreneur Needs To Adopt Today
Want to know what skills can help you build confidence and your business? Here are seven…
For some people, becoming an entrepreneur is as easy as stepping off a bus. They have a big idea, they bring it to life, they hire employees and the next thing they are in a building smothered in branding and living the business dream. For others, the idea and the passion are there but they are unsure as to how they can make these into a sustainable reality. Entrepreneurial spirit isn’t like instant coffee – you don’t add ideas and suddenly get all the skills you need to thrive.
Want to know what skills can help you build confidence and your business? Here are seven…
1. Believable vision
Make sure that your vision is believable and achievable. It has to live in the realms of possibility, not as a blue-sky idea that looks good on paper but wouldn’t work in reality. You need to be able to live this vision so make it realistic and achievable. This will not only keep you on track, but your employees as well.
2. Be inclusive
You need to ensure that every person who works with you feels as if they are part of your vision and understand it. They need to relate to where the business is going and how it plans to get there. Many leaders don’t understand why employees are not engaged with their business and it’s because many of them don’t actually understand what the business does.
3. Communication is critical
If you don’t have fantastic communication skills, then now is the time to hone them. When it comes to building employee morale, commitment and engagement, nothing works as effectively as constant communication. The same applies to client relationships. You need to repeat the vision and ethos of the company at every opportunity and you need to be part of the team that does this communication.
4. Be visible and transparent
You are communicating, now you need to make that communication genuine by being both open and clear. People respond incredibly well to transparency. They feel as if they are part of something that recognises their value and contribution and it fosters a more inclusive company culture. Often toxic cultures come about thanks to a lack of communication and visibility. People know when things are being kept secret and react negatively to it, regardless of whether they’re an employee, a customer or a manager.
5. Be practical
You aren’t going to build an empire in a fortnight so focus on a realistic and practical business strategy that has clear benchmarks and even clearer goals. Communicate these with the company and keep everybody on the same page. Practical and achievable means long-term success.
6. Build opportunities
As people become immersed in your company and part of its growth they will also need opportunities to grow. You need to tie their careers to the business and create opportunities for them.
7. Be human
It takes people to build a culture, a company and a future. It’s essential that you are human in your interactions and your treatment of others. The impact that a down to earth and authentic attitude can have on a company is extraordinary.
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