Entrepreneur - Born or Built
Dec 21, 2010
Entrepreneur is someone who mobilizes resources beyond his/her means to deliver value that is socially acceptable.
Therefore, borrowing, risk taking, high levels of accountability, influencing others to see value in his/her proposals, rolling on the floor when required, building a value network, and many more tough asks are part of an entrepreneur’s daily life. I used to think that a person cannot be made to become an entrepreneur simply because you are asking a person to hold a tiger’s tail. Once someone is in that position, it is hard to get out. Losing the grip is a dangerous proposition. While this continues to be true, I got a revelation recently when I was watching an Indian movie clip.
A hero is about to leave town in a train. He is seated by the window. There is enough time to kill before the train leaves the station. A beggar comes by asking for small change.
Our hero, instead of providing alms, walks with the 'less provided for' person to a nearby news stand. He pays the news stand owner for a handful of magazines, hands them to the beggar and asks him to sell those at the train’s windows. He guides the 'beggar turning salesman' to negotiate a small commission (compensation for value added in bringing the merchandise to the window and saving time).
Our new salesman is successful in a flash of time, and returns back with the capital plus a little extra. Our hero advises the new born entrepreneur to use the little extra as seed capital for the next round and walks away with his seed capital.
The heroine sees all this and says 'MY HERO'. The hero's act is exactly what is called 'teaching a person to fish instead of feeding the person a fish'.
This made me to think that some people are more trainable for entrepreneurship roles than others. The important qualifier has to be a positive and robust value system. This is required in the targeted entrepreneur to build the trustworthiness to borrow cash or kind. Other than this, there are three important aspects.
1. The Right Mindset
The person has experienced the stimulus and developed the mindset to be open to do many things which common people feel uncomfortable even to think about (e.g., equivalent of rolling on the floor in public view when required – in our example, loud mouthed advertisement/selling by the train window – a huge compromise to social stature for many).
2. Economic Sense
The person should be able to see the economic value that is added in every endeavor and know how to equate it to hard money terms. One may argue that this is trainable but my experience says that it is not so easy.
Normally people who struggle to make ends meet for sustenance understand these aspects much faster than others. Some intutive people who are born in entrepreneur families are able to see these points of view by just watching their family members in action. They also experience (first hand) the struggle to keep a show running. I also think that any child nurtured to take responsibility for ones own actions and encouraged to make money with ones own effort at a young age will be ready for the mould.
In many Indian families, children are not allowed to handle money. It is considered as bad parenting to let a child handle money. The denial is driven by parental fear that a child with money has the potential to use the money irresponsibly. Instead of teaching children responsibile use of money, they simply deprive the opportunity. On the other extreme end of the spectrum are families who stuff their children with loads of money and encourage “Kid in a candy shop” mindset – i.e., let them acquire stuff that does not offer any useful value. Either kind of parental stimulus kills the entrepreneurship thinking at its roots.
By looking into a person’s upbringing, I think it is possible to identify people with potential on the aforesaid entrepreneurship traits and bring them to the forefront.
3. Gut For Risk
The third most important element which in my opinion cannot be molded into a personality is the gut for taking risk. All other skills can be imparted by training. Gut for risk always shows up only during action. I am unable to think of a way by which one can sense gut for risk in a person without experiencing action. That is why venture capitalists and angel investors provide seed capital on startup ideas and define a burn out time as well. They do not hesitate to pull the plug on those who can't sustain by themselves in the given time.