My colleague and I have volunteered to create a one-day course on entrepreneurship at a school where I am currently a student. We think that entrepreneurship isn’t just a label for start-up companies and their CEOs, but an attitude and approach that helps a person to take or make opportunities and develop them further. What do you think? – Noelle Decuypere
As a label, the word “entrepreneur” really is fascinating. When my friends and I were starting up our first Virgin businesses in the early ‘70s, no one seemed to understand what we were doing.
Some important people called us entrepreneurs, but they used the word in a derogatory way, hinting that we were adventurers, out to upset the order of things, and perhaps not to be trusted.
We certainly didn’t describe ourselves as entrepreneurs at that time, because that would have been met with some strange looks.
Is entrepreneurship a lifestyle choice?
These days, the number of people who are working as entrepreneurs has increased so much that that this career path almost qualifies as a lifestyle choice.
Defining “entrepreneur” has become more difficult because it now means so many different things to so many different people – all of us speak from our own experiences.
The thing is, our critics were partly right: We really were out to disrupt the order of things. Then and now, when we’re starting up a new Virgin business, we don’t just want to carry out a simple moneymaking exercise, but to make a positive change in people’s lives and give consumers a better deal.
Whichever product or service we offer, we want it to be a lot better than all the rest.
Doing things differently can work
Our approach, which I would describe as entrepreneurial, has proven to be a real advantage. For instance, all but one of Virgin Atlantic’s original competitors have gone out of business since we entered the market in the ‘90s.
This happened for a number of reasons, but probably the most important one was their lack of innovation and bravery. We noticed this first when Virgin’s move into air travel was met with scepticism, and then after we showed the critics that air travellers wanted a different type of experience – flights that included entertainment and terrific service – we saw that most of our competitors were too slow to react.
From my perspective, an entrepreneur isn’t just someone who launches a business; the desire to innovate then prompts that person to keep on striving to make positive changes.
Companies need to be flexible: This starts with the people at the top, who must have a real desire to disrupt new markets they enter, and to react nimbly to changing circumstances at established businesses.
It’s also probably fair to say that you can be successful in business without being an entrepreneur – keeping the money coming in steadily without looking for the next opportunity to expand and improve.
[box style=”grey map rounded shadow”]
Entrepreneurship is fearless
What makes the difference is fearlessness. The best businesses offer a product or service that has never previously been available.
While you can almost always conduct research and test the marketplace before a launch, an entrepreneur will always be, to some extent, jumping into the unknown, as the very nature of a new product means you’re venturing into new territory.
Very young people often have an advantage here, since they can approach business challenges without fear because they have nothing holding them back, no commitments, and in many ways nothing to lose.
As a person’s career progresses, considerations such as looking after one’s family and paying the mortgage come into play.
If you think you have a game-changing idea and you too have such responsibilities, you are facing a true test of an entrepreneur.
The best way to handle this is to not to let such factors rule your decision-making process, but to integrate them into it. Prepare for failure, protect your downside, and then go right ahead with the launch.
Resilience is essential
The other part of the equation is resilience. Despite the most careful planning and preparation, the vast majority of start-ups fail within the first year of business.
What does this tell us? That entrepreneurs must not only cope with failure, but welcome it.
There’s no shame in admitting that something isn’t working and going back to the drawing board – we’ve done our fair share of that at Virgin.
This ability to bounce back will make the difference, allowing you and your team to apply yourselves to new goals wholeheartedly, without looking back.
So an entrepreneur is many things: a job creator, a game-changer, a business leader, an innovator, a disruptor. Most importantly, that entrepreneur is you, if you want to be one badly enough.
Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur or an businessman/woman? Which label do you prefer? Let us know in the comment section below…
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.
Types of Businesses to Start2 days ago
(Infographic) 5 Best Online Businesses To Start Before The Year Ends
Company Posts2 weeks ago
Spartan Has Financing That Is Designed For Your Business
Start-up Advice2 days ago
(Infographic)The Do’s And Don’ts Of Naming Your Business
Entrepreneur Today1 week ago
Africa’s Own Aspiring Extraterrestrial Calls On African Innovators To Apply For The #Africa4Future Initiative Before 30 November
Women Entrepreneur Successes1 week ago
Third Prize Winner Of The Workspace/MiWay Competition Shares Top Lessons Learnt
Investing1 week ago
Are You Keeping All Your Eggs In One Basket? Here’s Why You Need To Diversify Your Offshore Investments NOW
Entrepreneur Profiles3 days ago
Tim Hogins Started Out As A Security Guard, Today His Has A Turnover Of R150 Million And Has Self-Funded Three Huge Lifestyle Parks
Lessons Learnt6 days ago
How BrightRock Is Disrupting The Insurance Industry With These 2 Pivotal Strategies