Today’s guest blog post has been written by Maureen Donnellan, a consultant to the UpTech program.
“What it is really like to be Captain Kirk”
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According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the definition of an entrepreneur is one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise. It is a French word from the Old French verb entreprendre, to undertake.
When I speak with people about entrepreneurs and their qualities, however, I hear an entirely different tone. The dictionary definition is very matter-of-fact and, well, not very exciting. But most people become very animated when speaking of the entrepreneurs they know and express much admiration for them.
My own experiences as an entrepreneur are more like the dictionary version. I have been partner in two independent enterprises: a law practice and an environmental consultancy. I also started one on my own—a communications and marketing consultancy. Organizing, managing, and assuming the financial risks for the business were activities that consumed the majority of my 14-16 hour days at these startup companies.
However, the dictionary does leave out the fun things I did every day, which included creating new ways to do new things, exercising independence and authority as a business owner, learning how to be a leader as a partner and an employer, and experiencing the immense satisfaction and self-awareness that comes along with all of that, just to name a few.
There is much more, but it is important to also talk about the not-so-fun stuff that you experience as an entrepreneur. This is the hard stuff that doesn’t let you sleep at night: the fear you experience when your monthly accounts are down, the frustration that occurs when a new product or service isn’t quite cutting the mustard, or the loss or desperation you endure when you have to fire an employee or borrow money to make payroll.
I did a little research in preparing to write this article. I wanted to see what people think are the key characteristics of entrepreneurs. I also wanted to hear the common reasons some people want to become one themselves.
In almost every case, a rather romantic and somewhat skewed figure emerges from the clouds of universal admiration. This figure symbolizes a way of life with which people are in love. This way of life is something very American, like pioneers, cowboys, astronauts – someone like Captain Kirk, who embodies the spirit of all those individuals. This figure is repeatedly described as passionate, innovative, adventurous, brilliant, courageous, persistent, and adaptive; a risk taker, a problem solver, a trail blazer, and a visionary; someone who is a master of their own universe, transforming the world for the better, creating useful and incredible new products and services out of nothing, and living a self-directed, interesting, and purposeful way of life that we all want.
Wow. Captain Kirk, indeed. Who wouldn’t want to be that guy or gal? But it actually went too far. After reading a recent blog post where the author discusses motivations to become an entrepreneur, this statement really caught my attention:
I’d be interested in finding out which of these motivations is most often the dominant one. My suspicion is this: money is not the main motivation. The failure rate of startup businesses is too high for many people to think that starting their own businesses is going to make them fortunes. Going off and working for another company is just an easier road to financial success. But it might not be as fulfilling. I would bet that the attraction of the entrepreneurial lifestyle or the opportunity to sell your passion for a living is why most entrepreneurs do what they do.
Hmmm. If this person is correct, no wonder so many startup businesses fail. This is where I would like to make my main point. I am not discouraging dreaming. I am the biggest dreamer in the room. However, entrepreneurship, by its very core definition, is about one main thing: business. And business is about one main thing: turning a profit. Your true purpose may be for other more visionary and inspirational reasons, but profit is key for your survival. Otherwise, you won’t have a business for long.
I may be a master of the obvious, but I have found that many people starting a business often forget this very thing. Having a great idea is, well, great. But you have to be able to pay the bills with that idea. Business is business. And, by the way, it might be a new, innovative, and visionary idea, but you don’t create it from nothing. You create it with equity (sweat or cash, usually lots and lots of both), long hours of work, and with everything you own and everything you love on the line.
That’s where the real test of an entrepreneur surfaces: in the hard, monotonous, tedious stuff you really don’t want to do that has to happen every day. That’s closing the books instead of playing with fun packaging ideas for a new product, cleaning the bathrooms instead of playing a round of golf, taking a customer complaint call at 11pm instead of sleeping. This is the stuff that requires qualities you don’t usually hear mentioned by fans of entrepreneurs: humility, crisis management, planning, discipline, and persistence.
Want to know what really makes successful entrepreneurs tick? Forget all the romantic hero stuff. Ask them to tell you about the hardest day they’ve ever had – the day they had to close down a shop, discontinue a product line, or fire an employee. Then ask them one final question: Is it worth it? My bet is most of them will tell you the same thing: YES. And then, of course, “Beam me up, Scotty.”