People have tried to understand entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship for centuries. One school of thought – reflected in your word cloud – associates entrepreneurship with risk. But, everyone confronts risk and no sane person seeks risk – they seek reward and try to minimize or manage risk.
We will try to shed light in these articles on how to think about the relationship between risk and reward. There are three insights we can share:
- Without risk, there is no return
- Without return, you shouldn’t bear risk
- The most important goal in entrepreneurship is to stay in the game by not running out of cash or losing the trust of investors
Other observers associate entrepreneurship with invention and innovation. Yes, there are many celebrated entrepreneurs and companies that are innovative. But, many companies are great at execution, not innovation. Microsoft, to illustrate, did not invent the personal computer operating system, spreadsheets, word processing or presentation graphics. But, Bill Gates and Microsoft surely must be considered one of the great entrepreneurial success stories of the past fifty years. And, Microsoft has certainly been innovative in its products and business models over the years.
Or, Ray Kroc, the person most people associate with McDonald’s, didn’t invent inexpensive hamburgers, French fries, fast service, or even golden arches. He discovered the concept while selling milkshake mixers in California, and turned a small local restaurant into a global giant.
More recently, most people associate Elon Musk with Tesla Motors, but he didn’t come up with the idea for the original Tesla electric car. Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning founded Tesla in the early 2000s after observing that battery technology had improved sufficiently to make a high-performing electric vehicle. They raised capital from Musk in 2004. Musk replaced Eberhard as CEO in 2007, as the company struggled to meet deadlines and burned through more cash than anticipated.
Many have tried to identify an entrepreneurial personality or profile. One study said you had to have a domineering mother to be an entrepreneur! But, I have seen great entrepreneurs from all walks of life, of every race, creed and gender, in every corner of the globe, and at all ages. There is no single personality profile, and it is important to pay attention to the entrepreneurial team rather than focus on the individual. Also, some people enter the entrepreneurial world after losing a job or even being fired. Others are more deliberate – there is no single path.
If I had to identify a few behaviors, as distinct from personality traits, which I associate with entrepreneurship, they would be curiosity, pattern recognition, team building, structured experimentation, adaptation, decisiveness and persistence. You will hear from several entrepreneurs and will be able to identify what you think they have in common.
As you go through this course, we hope you will study new (and old) entrepreneurial ventures. Ask yourself the following questions: How did they get going? Who was on the team? How did they evolve? What did they learn after they got into business? Which companies failed or might still fail? Pay close attention to the real stories, as distinct from the public image – they often differ.
Most of the world associate entrepreneurship with starting a business. That stage of a company is very interesting to study but we will argue that all successful entrepreneurs are focused on the process from the beginning to the end, from startup to harvest. They make decisions at each stage that reflect what has happened and what might happen. It’s easy to start a business but hard to grow a sustainable and substantial one. And, some of the greatest opportunities in history were discovered well after a venture launched.
An opportunity is more than a product idea and it extends well beyond the initial act of getting into business. It’s a plan that shows how a venture will attract, retain and reward all stakeholders – customers, founders, employees, investors, distributors, and suppliers.
Entrepreneurs (individuals or teams) actively scan the environment for opportunities or discover them as they live and work. They form hypotheses about what customers want or need and how they can deliver value to the customer. They structure tests – experiments – in which they try to figure out if their idea is going to work and to guide future decision making. Typically, they recruit some people and invest some money to determine if customers will indeed value the product and if they can produce it and deliver it at an acceptable cost. They often find different, even better ideas once in the marketplace.
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Resources of these articles are: Harvard Business School