Reality vs. Myth
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By Edward D. Hess,
Distinguished Executive in Residence and
Adjunct Professor of Management, Goizueta Graduate School of Business
What is the definition of an entrepreneur? Who is entrepreneurial?
What is entrepreneurship? Can big companies be entrepreneurial?
Can you be an entrepreneur working for a charity? Can you learn
how to be entrepreneurial or must you be born with "it"?
Who are entrepreneurs? Sam Walton went from Benton, Arkansas
to being head of the wealthiest family in the U.S. Bill Gates
and Paul Allen went from college dropouts to multi-billionaires.
Anita Roddick, Tom Cousins, Charles Brewer, Howard Schultz, Tycho
Howle, and Ben Dyer are all examples of successful entrepreneurs.
Some think entrepreneurs are visionaries that can see or imagine
what ordinary people cannot; and people who can do what ordinary
people cannot; people who can overcome the fear of losing it all
with passion and persistence. In studying successful business
builders and in representing some for over 20 years, I have come
to the conclusion that entrepreneurs are NOT smarter than the
"average bear", NOT more creative and NOT more passionate
about wanting to succeed. So what are the keys to the kingdom
The following factors are common in successful entrepreneurs:
- Many successful entrepreneurs come from humble backgrounds
and are driven passionately to escape that humble background;
- Many successful men entrepreneurs had dominant mothers who
instilled an internal drive and ambition into them and expected
outstanding performance for love and affection;
- Many successful entrepreneurs began their work careers in traditional
jobs and became entrepreneurial after learning an industry and
hitting a plateau;
- Many successful entrepreneurs ended up in places they never
intended to be. They were plodders; they were tinkerers and they
were not big discovery people;
- Many successful entrepreneurs were not creative geniuses. Many
were copiers - imitators or next generation extenders. Most successful
new ventures are either extensions of existing products to new
markets or uses or the transfer of applications or ideas across
Most successful entrepreneurs do not create a new customer need.
It is obvious because the customer tells them of the need and
the current employer for some reasons does not capitalize on the
opportunity and the entrepreneur does. The entrepreneur recognizes
and seizes the opportunity.
IT IS OPPORTUNITY RECOGNITION THAT IS KEY.
AND IT IS BEING ITERATIVE AND TINKERING UNTIL
YOU GET IT RIGHT IN EXECUTING THE OPPORTUNITY.
If I am right, and opportunity recognition and executing the
opportunity are the keys, then people can be entrepreneurial in
many different environments - big or small businesses; government
or not for profits, etc.
Opportunity recognition is critical. In addition, successful
entrepreneurs, especially serial entrepreneurs, have a process
for evaluating key opportunities. Key components of this opportunity
evaluation process include:
- Evaluating the potential lifecycle of the opportunity, taking
into account the industry, structure, market size, ease of replication,
and competitor abilities;
- Testing the idea without betting the ranch. How do you try
it without risking large sums of emotional and/or financial capital?
- A Customer Focus - the landfills are full of great products
which customers did not need nor want.
If you think about it, this process is not unlike the scientific
research process; not unlike the venture capital investment process;
not unlike the innovation process; not unlike the new product
development process; not unlike inventing software. All of these
processes are iterative, learn-as-you-go, adaptive, sense and
Successful entrepreneurs are able to get from opportunity recognition
to commercialization quicker and better than others. It is the
process of execution - doing it - which creates the value. So
maybe the definition of a successful entrepreneur is someone who:
Recognizes opportunity and executes on that opportunity before
And the opportunity can be a different way to deliver services
to people in need (charities) or services to constituents (public
service) or a different way to deal with homelessness or the cycle
of poverty or to start a children's museum. And yes, to make a
product to sell.
And opportunity recognition and execution skills can be taught.
So, yes - you, too can be an entrepreneur - if you want to.
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