The Essential Entrepreneur: What Is Stopping You From Being an Entrepreneur?
Successful entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes, but they all share one essential trait. Find out how to make your own entrepreneurial dreams come true.
Much to the dismay of my long suffering father, in 1985 I exchanged my “fast track” career in the New York City based cable television industry for a job with a cash-starved, software start-up in bucolic North Carolina for half the pay. Shortly thereafter I attended my first meeting of the Council for Entrepreneurial Development that had recently formed in Research Triangle Park (RTP) to nurture entrepreneurship. The speaker was a highly successful Silicon Valley transplant with what might be euphemistically described as “a bit of an attitude.” The first thing he did was ask all the entrepreneurs in the capacity crowd to raise their hands. Very few hands went up. Then he smirked, “Oh I get it, the rest of you are wannabes trying to sell something to an entrepreneur.”
He didn’t get much of a laugh but he soldiered on unfazed, “People are always asking me for the difference between Silicon Valley and RTP. Well, in Silicon Valley when someone quits IBM and starts a company everyone says, ‘What took you so long?’ Around here when someone quits IBMto start a company everyone says, ‘What happened, you get fired?’”
My own start-up failed a couple years later, but signing on remains one of the best decisions I ever made. Hell, even my Dad eventually agreed. Years later I was whining about how excruciatingly painful it was bootstrapping my own company. After patiently enduring my five minute sob story all he said was, “Yeah, and you wouldn’t trade places with anyone, would you?”
Much as it galled me to agree with the old man, the stunned look on my face gave it away, and now that he’s gone I cherish the memory of how hard he laughed at my tongue-tied chagrin until there was nothing left for me to do but join in…
* * *When I first discovered all the discussion groups on LinkedIn I was licking my chops. I joined a gaggle of groups only to find that the term “discussion” is a bit of a misnomer. With few exceptions these discussions are merely an opportunity to post a static bill board without any reference to the comments that came before. Even when I directed my own comments at other posts in an attempt to “stir things up” I was usually ignored. Which only goes to show that despite the incessant hype about the importance of being “good listeners” we’re as addicted as ever to the sound of our own voice whether literal or literary.
But despite my disappointment, when I stumbled on a discussion entitled: What is Stopping You from Being an Entrepreneur? I couldn’t resist a topic with over a thousand comments. I eagerly read dozens of comments only to discover that they were little more than a litany of frustrated wannabe entrepreneurs bemoaning a lack of “capital.” Apparently if these folks just had money they would give Mark Zuckerberg a run for his own. It never seemed to occur to them that one of the things that makes an entrepreneur an entrepreneur is his ability to find capital or, likeSteve Jobs, jump-start a company without it. When I posted this position it was not only ignored, but the very next poster blamed a lack of “financial wherewithal” for his own frustrated entrepreneurial ambitions.
Philosophy has been my life-long passion. I’m often asked to apply this “useless” obsession to the practicalities of business, and all those LinkedIn comments about money and entrepreneurship presents an opportunity to do just that. Philosophers make a distinction between essential and accidental characteristics. It is essential to the “chairness” of a chair that it is something to sit on. Whether a chair is black or brown, made of wood or steel or has three legs or four is an accidental characteristic of a particular chair.
Essential and accidental characteristics are also related to another favorite of philosophers: the problem of identity. If you and I exchange heads, would I remain me with a different body or become you with a different head? In this case most would conclude that the head is essential and the body accidental. In other words, we are far more identifiedwith our head than our body.
Applying this distinction to entrepreneurship, it is my contention that being able to find the money to start a company is essential to being an entrepreneur while most of LinkedIn’s commentators considered it accidental. Mixing the essential with the accidental leads to many unfortunate mistakes in logic and therefore to bad business decisions. For many years personal computer manufacturers apparently thought that being boxy, steel grey, and uniformly ugly was essential to the nature of the PC. It took Steve Jobs to think different.
I’ve heard colleagues say that they are great at what they do, but they can’t do it under pressure. This argument is patently absurd. In business being able to perform under pressure is essential not accidental to being great at what you do. Business people who can’t perform under pressure remind me of the Zen story about the enlightened fish.
One day a group of Zen students came running to their Master carrying a big fish. “Master, Master,” they said, “we just caught an enlightened fish! What should we do with it?”
“Eat it,” the Master replied, “what good is an enlightened fish?”
When I was growing up in Pittsburgh, an essential part of being a boy was dreaming about hitting dingers for the Pirates. Similarly, dreaming about becoming an entrepreneur seems essential to the American DNA. But the first step to actually becoming one is ruthless honesty. Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes. It is accidental whether they are well educated or not, rich or poor, loquacious or quiet, male or female, young or old, single or raising six kids.
But what is essential to every entrepreneur is faith in himself and his destiny. Only faith overcomes the myriad fears that human flesh is heir to - the same unspoken fears lurking just below the surface of all those LinkedIn posts and just behind all their entrepreneurial obstacles. It is faith in yourself and your purpose that turns an obstacle like a lack of capital into a golden opportunity: an opportunity to demonstrate to the world, and far more importantly to yourself, just exactly who you are.
Finding capital is easy. It’s finding the faith that finds it that’s hard. This is why I attribute far more of my own success to the rarefied philosophy of the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Tao Te Ching than I do to the practical wisdom of the Wall Street Journal.