As we emerge from the worldwide pandemic, businesses face many new, unexpected challenges: inflation, supply chain problems, workplace issues like adapting to more remote work, “quiet quitting” and employee burnout. With all the changes and challenges, running a business today may seem more like putting out daily wildfires. So it may not seem like the best time to think about reviving the entrepreneurial spirt, taking big risks to drive new growth and innovation. But I disagree. With great challenges come great opportunity.
The entrepreneurial spirit is what drove the economy during the 80s and 90s, leading to huge leaps in technology and innovation. Led by the dreamers of Silicon Valley, entrepreneurs were passionate, early adopters and risk takers who forged a path that literally changed the world. We need more of that entrepreneurial spirit today.
But what is an entrepreneur? What are the qualities and discipline that an entrepreneur must embody if his or her goal is to make a mark, to take a business or even the world in a new direction?
An entrepreneur is someone who’s crazy enough to jump out of the normal 9-5 pattern believing they can change the world. One of the key traits of an entrepreneur is a willingness to collaborate. Good entrepreneurs surround themselves with smart, committed people with a variety of skill sets who challenge them, ask questions, and above all carry out the important work that needs to be done. Entrepreneurs create an ecosystem of like-minded talents who they can rely on for critical advice, opinions, and ideas, much the same way the Executive Growth Alliance brings business leaders together to brainstorm on common problems and challenges.
Workers have choices. They can decide to make money or to make a difference. There’s nothing wrong with choosing the sure, stable path, being part of a team in a small start-up or even a big corporation. In fact, these workers are essential. Businesses of all types need structured, organized, skilled workers at every stage of development to bring their ideas and products to market.
But if you lean toward the entrepreneurial side, if you think you have a unique idea or a concept that can change the world, here are a few things to consider:
- What is your rant? Think about it. Almost every innovation starts out as a problem to solve. It starts with a rant. Ranting about not being able to find a taxi on a cold winter night led to the creation of Uber. Ranting about expensive hotel rooms led to Airbnb. I had a client who ranted about how every time they bought a coffee, they spilled it while walking down the street or driving their car. So they developed a new, better coffee lid. It can be as simple as that. So what’s your rant?
- Will it sell? Once you know the problem and how you’re going to fix it, the next important question is: will someone pay money for it? It’s one thing to have a good idea, but it must be realistic. It can’t cost more to make than what it will sell for. The best way to have a sustainable entrepreneurial adventure is to get people to pay money for the product, and the best way to do that is engaging them early, get their buy-in, get your potential customers thinking, “Wow, this is really cool, and I’m co-creating it with you.”
- Can you collaborate? To test and improve your ideas, you have to be able to talk to people. Not only to potential customers, but to investors, suppliers, colleagues, even competitors. Get their input, perspectives, and ideas. Learn from them. An entrepreneur cannot thrive on his or her own. They need to be able to look at the market, to collaborate, to network and be challenged. And you can only do that in some form of an ecosystem, whether it’s on LinkedIn, an online chat group, a university or alumni organization. Bring them together into your community and have frequent conversations to explore your rant.
- Do you like beans and rice? Even if your idea is a good one, it could be three to five years or more before you see a return, before you see a payday. Can you commit to the long hours, days and nights of hard work to bring your idea to fruition? Being an entrepreneur is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.
- Be a thought leader. Even before you bring a product to market, you can lead with your ideas and your passion. You don’t have to have a lot of experience to still be a voice, an influencer and expert in your particular area. Think Greta Thunberg, a young, passionate voice on climate change who is having a worldwide impact. It’s not impossible.
Silicon Valley is renowned as a center for entrepreneurship. But Silicon Valley is not so much a place as it is a culture where people with diverse interests came with a commitment and curiosity to do something bigger, a commitment to do what it takes to achieve their passion and their goals. That culture is being replicated today in places like Austin, Texas; Berlin, Germany; and Tel Aviv, Israel. We can learn valuable lessons from all of them to revive the entrepreneurial spirit worldwide.