What’s an Entrepreneur?

Everyone’s had a business idea at some point in their lives.

For most people, including me, they’re just passing fancies – momentary visions of grandiosity that persist for a few moments before reality comes crashing back in.  Yes, I’ve had my share of these.  Allow me to indulge you for a moment with one of my, er… entrepreneurial ideas.

Silent chip bags.
Have you ever been to a movie, either in a theatre or a friend’s house, and someone there is eating chips out of the crinkliest, noisiest foil bag ever? The silent chip bag eliminates this major annoyance without anyone having to cause a scene.  Thank me later.

I’ve been thinking about entrepreneurship a lot lately, because I had the responsibility recently of organizing and hosting a panel event at Career Services called “Starting Your Own Business.”  Not surprisingly, this involved rounding up a group of speakers who had something of value to say about the process of starting a business – mostly entrepreneurs themselves.

The event itself was yesterday, and I can say without hesitation that it went quite well.  The speakers were charismatic, insightful, and a pleasure to listen to.  The students in attendance were engaged, and asked lots of great questions.  In the end, I’m sure that everyone went away happy that they knew more about starting a business than they did before, and that’s all I could really have asked for.

I’d like to share a few of the more entertaining messages that stood out to me during the event regarding entrepreneurship.  We’ll call them my 5 nuggets of wisdom.

1. Entrepreneurs are pig-headed.
One of our speakers was a consultant who works with business owners to grow their business, and she said the above in reference to the streak of independence that most entrepreneurs seem to have.  They want things done a certain way.  They want to do it themselves.  They are very often unwilling to delegate important tasks to others.  This is both a strength and a weakness, as it’s this quality that drives them to strike out on their own in the first place, but can quickly stretch them thin and often to the breaking point unless they learn how to trust others with aspects of their business.

2. Starting a business is like getting married.
A marriage isn’t a 9 to 5 proposition, and neither is your business.  Both require you to always be “on,” and are going to cost you a lot of money to get started.  Both can transform your life, for good and for bad, and will evolve over time into something different.  Both require you to establish a balance between the time you put into it and the time you devote to being by yourself.  Half of marriages are believed to end in divorce.  Half of new business are believed to fail within 5 years.

3. Plan to fail.
More than one speaker addressed this point.  You need an exit strategy in the event that things go south, particularly if you are in business with a partner or a group of people.  One particularly poignant example is starting a business whose name is the same as your name.  What do you do when you want to sell the business?  It’s not like you can sell your name – that’s not exactly transferable.  When you’re starting out, make sure you outline not only what you’ll do if things go well, but also what you’ll do if they don’t.

4. Everyone dreams of doing something great.  Entrepreneurs stay awake and do it.
I think this speaks to an underlying theme that applies to a much larger context than starting a business.  That theme is that taking action is the key to all forward movement, that passivity breeds complacence and stagnation.  While doing nothing will always result in nothing, doing something will usually result in something.  With action comes an element of risk, and it may be that successful entrepreneurs have more of a penchant for risk-taking.

5. Embrace uncertainty, or else.
Here’s another message that ties in to some bigger-picture thinking regarding career development in general.  One speaker, a counsellor who developed a successful private practice right out of her Master’s degree, and regularly facilitates workshops on starting a successful private practice, told of how her path sort of folded out before her, and that she hadn’t planned on any of it.  The life of an entrepreneur is arguably more fraught with uncertainty than any other career path – there is always an element of the unknown, regardless of how many factors you try to bring under your control.  Staying open to new, unexpected opportunities and to changing directions could very well be the reason your business survives.

I have a lot of admiration for those who are able to strike out on their own and be successful, and I think everyone can identify to some degree with the feeling of being attracted to the freedom that having a business can bring.  Though I can say with certainty that I’m not at a stage in my life where I feel ready to take that kind of a step, who knows what the future may bring?

If I’ve sparked your entrepreneurial spirit, check out some of the below links as a starting point.

Small Business BC – Fantastic all-around resource with tons of tips and resources.

Leaders of Tomorrow – mentorship program run by the Vancouver Board of Trade

Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE) SFU – student organization for the advancement of entrepreneurship.

SFU Venture Connection – organization to advance entrepreneurship on campus.  Among other things, arranges monthly venture meet-ups.

*Cross-posted at the Career Services Informer.

Image: here.