Fly High, Entrepreneur, With 3 Key Skills

There are great minds aplenty when it comes to individual business disciplines (marketing, finance, quality, social media, etc). Rare is the individual whose thought leadership spans effortlessly from one to another. Seth Godin, however, is one of those truly bright minds who “gets it” on many fronts. His Twitter posts are very interesting to read and his books are well respected. Godin’s most recent, The Icarus Deception (Portfolio, 2013), is described below by Amazon.com:

The old rules: Play it safe. Stay in your comfort zone. Find an institution, a job, a set of rules to stick to. Keep your head down. Don’t fly too close to the sun.
 
The new truth: It’s better to be sorry than safe. You need to fly higher than ever.
 
In his bravest and most challenging book yet, Seth Godin shows how we can thrive in an econ­omy that rewards art, not compliance. He explains why true innovators focus on trust, remarkabil­ity, leadership, and stories that spread. And he makes a passionate argument for why you should be treating your work as art.
 
Art is not a gene or a specific talent. It’s an atti­tude, available to anyone who has a vision that others don’t, and the guts to do something about it. Steve Jobs was an artist. So were Henry Ford and Martin Luther King Jr.
 
To work like an artist means investing in the things that scale: creativity, emotional labor, and grit. The path of the artist isn’t for the faint of heart—but Godin shows why it’s your only chance to stand up, stand out, and make a difference.
 
The time to seize new ground and work without a map is now. So what are you going to do?

Fall_of_Icarus_Blondel_decoration_Louvre_INV2624In a blog post last week for Entrepreneur.com,  blogger Bryan Elliott cites three essential skills Godin mentions in the new book as being critical for every great entrepreneur:

1. Quiet your lizard brain.
We all have what Godin refers to as a lizard brain. He says, “The lizard is a physical part of your brain, the pre-historic lump called the amygdala near the brain stem that is responsible for fear and rage and reproductive drive.”  

Godin has written a lot about this in previous books including Linchpin and Poke the Box and cites author Steven Pressfield for further explanation — “As Pressfield describes it, the lizard brain is the resistance. The resistance is the voice in the back of our head telling us to back off, be careful, go slow, compromise. The resistance is writer’s block and putting jitters and every project that ever shipped late because people couldn’t stay on the same page long enough to get something out the door. The resistance grows in strength as we get closer to shipping, as we get closer to an insight, as we get closer to the truth of what we really want. That’s because the lizard hates change and achievement and risk,” Godin says in The Icarus Deception.

2. Think like an artist.
In The Icarus Deception, Godin challenges us to think beyond the norm and become artists. “It’s not art if the world (or at least a tiny portion of it) isn’t transformed in some way. And it’s not art if it’s not generous. And most of all, it’s not art if there’s no risk. The risk isn’t the risk of financial ruin (though that might be part of it). No, the risk is the risk of rejection. Of puzzlement. Of stasis. Art requires the artist to care, and to care enough to do something when he knows it might not work.”

3. Connect the disconnected. 

Godin writes about “The Connected Economy” and explains that the era where we needed to care about catering to the masses is gone. It’s about connecting people who are disconnected — then connection becomes a function of art. The opportunity in the Connection Economy is about finding the problem (where are people disconnected).

Can you make the transition to reduce resistance, seek to transform, and connecting others to solutions? If so, you have assets that will serve you well as an entrepreneur!

 

Entrepreneurial Twists and Misfortune

Anyone who has read my blog for more than one sitting knows that I began my career doing turnarounds, mixed in some strategy added to marketing and nonprofit, started some businesses, and now help startups and SMEs. Invariably, some of the companies I run across or that you may read about in an epitaph simply do not pan out. Megan Kauffman posted a blog entry today that features the thoughts of Wen-Szu Lin, a Wharton grad whose entrepreneurial venture in China was unsuccessful. Lin’s thoughts are below:

When our business in China did not work out as hoped, I could not believe that I failed at something I set out to achieve.  Four years of my life were gone.  The emotional scars and physical ailments resulting from the stress were real enough.  I couldn’t believe that I had lost money for my investors (who were friends and family).

Few people discuss the details about such periods in their lives.  Most entrepreneurs that we hear about succeed.  Or else they fade into oblivion.  Older entrepreneurs occasionally discuss the multiple failures that they experienced to reach success.  Yet, those painful memories are long past.  The younger a successful entrepreneur is, the more he or she is featured and sought after in stories.Venture failure

So, what happens with the majority of the entrepreneurs who, like myself, have experienced a major setback?  By far, this period was the most challenging in my life, and I was the most unprepared for the moment.  All of the business cases that I had studied in school, read in books, and heard first hand from entrepreneurs focused on how to handle business success.  How would I deal with failure emotionally and mentally?

Range of Initial Reactions

In China, I saw a lot of failed businesses, both from local Chinese and foreign entrepreneurs.  Through my years in Beijing, I have met many entrepreneurs and witnessed their responses when their businesses fail.

Based on my un-scientific observations, initial reactions fall into a few categories:

  • Reflect and move on
  • Disappearing Act
  • Denial (negative energy)
  • Oblivious (optimistic)

There are probably many other common responses to a failed business venture, but these were the ones that I encountered most often.

What happens now?

My foolish pride was quickly replaced by an immediate concern:  I needed to support my family, as my wife had just given birth to our first child.  Perhaps this urgency snapped me out of a potential downward spiral into depression. I had to quickly figure out how to generate an income for my family.

I experienced many mixed emotions as I evaluated my options and next steps.  Here were some of my main take-aways:

  • Personal reflection:  I started writing anecdotes, detailing each of the memorable stories from our four years.  I relived them in my mind and tried my best to put them on paper with the same intensity as I experienced them.  That was how I learned to move on from my experience.

Bottom line, I wrote a book (The China Twist) that reflected my experience.  The book contains the most vulnerable moments in my career, so I am facing my fears and my ‘shame’ head-on.  I am proud of what I wrote and what I have experienced. 

  • Job opportunities:  I did not realize that my degrees and background experience in consulting and technology were such a strong security blanket.  My options were actually quite varied and better than I had expected when the business ended.  
  • Another shot at entrepreneurship:  Growing up, I could think of nothing else I wanted to do except start something from the ground up.  My priorities definitely have changed but my dreams have not. One thing I know for sure is that I will be back in the entrepreneurship game sooner or later.

Some great advice from someone else who has lived the highs and lows. Take it to heart…stick a copy of it in a file and read his book –“just in case” you ever need the encouragement!

Entrepreneur Faith – Future, Attitude, Improvisation, Timing and Help

Reading outside one’s usual list of publications, blogs, and websites can be very eye-opening. Perspective emerges as familiar subjects are addressed in differing ways. When worldview is, in fact, only hemispheric or nationalistic, it is incomplete to say the least. Asia is exciting in the business world today, as can be parts of Europe. One European publication draws my occasional attention: Entrepreneur Country.

Entrepreneur Country recently held a forum in, of all places, the Royal Institution of Great Britain. (Same location where the first Industrial Revolution began.)  Contrast this austere setting with the arrival of Madonna as a guest lecturer and you get the sense that this was not “business as usual!”

Writing about the event, Peter Cook commented that “the day was characterized by entrepreneurs telling real life stories of their hopes, fears, successes and failures.” below he shares some of his observations and take-aways, with a few musical references (Cook is the leader of the Academy of Rock) for good measure:

iTrigga(Much) discussion was .. around what entrepreneurs do to avoid burnout. Ed Bussey of iTrigga was a prime example, having come to the conference after an all night vigil at hospital on the occasion of his wife giving birth! He did however point out the importance of pressing the OFF button from time to time to avoid the possibility of crash and burn entrepreneurship.  Others talked of rituals and routines such as working out in the gym, taking forced holidays, running the London Marathon, going to the North Pole (that’s hardly chilling out!) and so on. Seemingly obvious advice, yet not always taken by busy entrepreneurs.

Several speakers also gave witness to the importance of maintaining naivety if you are to succeed as an entrepreneur. Madonna’s contribution to this area is via her blockbuster hit “Like A Virgin”, which translates to the need to treat each new business situation like it’s the very first time. In particular, Sir William Sargent of Framestore painted a picture of the importance of intuition, creativity and the ability to remain adaptive and flexible as your company grows, saying, “If I stand still for 12 months, I will be out of business 12 months later.”

Entrepreneur Country Founder Julie Meyer and Dr Mike Lynch (offered opening remarks.) Julie presented her ideas about entrepreneurship clearly, concisely and without apology for wanting to create an enterprise economy, which produces both economic and social benefit. Business gets enough hard knocks and we need to start seeing it as an engine of improvement, rather than an evil empire as it is frequently portrayed by Governments and a self-righteous public sector. Mike Lynch extended Julie’s strident start to the day by giving us some home truths on entrepreneurship:

“Without good marketing you can have something amazing and no one will know.  Marketing is not cheating”

“Avoid the myth of doing things properly”

Another speaker, Stephen Linnecar, suggested that we gotta have FAITH – Not an allusion to George Michael, but the summary of his presentation which focused on five factors which he regarded as key to success as an entrepreneur: Future, Attitude, Improvisation, Timing and Help. Improvisation featured strongly throughout the day, a point that resonated personally with me, having taught creativity, improvisation and innovation for the Open University MBA for 18 years. However, what impressed me most of all about the speakers at the event was a real and unusual sense of authenticity.  Truths were told about successes. Much more importantly, we gained an insight into mistakes and outright failures. It’s much more important for an entrepreneur to learn from their mistakes than their successes and many speakers were candid about their regrets. 

 

 

 

 

Entrepreneurial Field of Dreams

Many communities across the United States are scrambling to come up with an agenda for entrepreneurship. With significant success stories in the San Francisco Bay and Boston areas, others have jumped onto a bandwagon. Each community pursuing the elusive prize is making wagers with a combination of public and private dollars to try and effect economic growth through encouraging start-ups. While the models being used are very different, the common denominator is that each effort, like a start-up itself, must determine where to focus to obtain the best trade-off of investment versus anticipated benefits.

Go For It  Start a BusinessInstead of one of the “hotbeds” of entrepreneurship, I like to look at what is working in the hinterlands. Columbia, Missouri certainly seems to fit that categorization at first blush. Mike Brooks leads REDI (Regional Economic Development, Inc.) in an effort to “promote positive economic expansion and provides increased economic opportunities in the Columbia area, assisting entrepreneurs, developing businesses, and companies relocating.”

His group sees the following as Benefits for Local Communities committed to the process:

  • Employment and Opportunity: Cities are places where people live, work, and play. Cities need opportunities for employment so citizens can afford to enjoy the metropolitan lifestyle. Harvard Business School professor Howard Stevenson defined entrepreneurship as “the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.” Prosperous cities work to understand this dynamic, since entrepreneurs will establish their businesses in locales that support business growth. The jobs created by entrepreneurs not only support current citizens’ lifestyles, but they also make specific cities more attractive for future businesses to establish themselves in that location.
  • Tax Income: Communities require governance to provide a structured environment. The infrastructure of successful cities would not exist without money coming into local economies from the sale of products or services. The necessary public works and amenities that sustain a city depend on businesses, as well as resident taxes and purchases.
  • Identity and Character: Entrepreneurs help create the unique character of a community. This character enhances the sense of place and belonging that adds to the overall quality of life. Most entrepreneurs start businesses where they live, which allows companies to develop deeper connections to the community. Apple, Google, Dell, and HP started as entrepreneurial companies that were identified with, and formed a strong relationship with, their surrounding communities.

In order for these benefits to accrue to the community, an entrepreneurial ecosystem has to be built. In Raleigh, the Innovate Raleigh initiative is the rallying cry for such dedicated efforts, though many others are tackling the challenge in differing ways. The important thing is to, as Brooks recommends,

Support Entrepreneurs

  • Recognition and Shared Goals: Already-established entrepreneurs in the community can greatly help city organizations focus on effective economic development, prioritizing incentives, and planning strategies to encourage business growth. The presence of colleges or universities can also be a great channel for enticing businesses to launch or expand in a community. A diverse population of students, professors, visitors, and residents allows for more variety in business ventures.
  • Community Programs: Several communities around the nation continually find successful ways to encourage local entrepreneurs. In the 1980s, the city of Littleton, Colo., decided to focus on homegrown businesses as a community growth strategy. They established “economic gardening,” which focused on bringing sophisticated, corporate-level tools like database research, geographic information systems, search engine optimization, and social network mapping to small businesses within Littleton. This nurturing environment proved successful and serves as a model for similar communities throughout the nation.

Other best practices for supporting entrepreneurs have less to do with cool co-working spaces and meetups and more to do with helping someone who’s never run a business sort through what they will face. A proven entrepreneurship curriculum, complemented by personal mentoring of the founders by experienced start-up veterans, is so needful and should be a part of every community’s offering to all entrepreneurs they hope to serve.

Main Street Start-ups Better

 

Sean Ogle, the founder of Location Rebel, once faced the daunting challenge of whether to go the start-up route or begin a lifestyle business. He took the time to examine the two alternatives and feels that lifestyle businesses are a better option for many people. He offers 7 reasons why he thinks this way below:

1. You are not Instagram.

For every startup that sells and makes millions, there are hundreds — if not thousands — that fail or, even worse, continue to just barely make it, sucking the life out of you in the process.

2. Building a startup is building a 9-to-5.

While it’s fun to start up running on nothing but adrenaline and Red Bull, the excitement wanes and the monotony sets in after a few months. Many startup companies turn into really bad 9-to-5 jobs for the founders. For example, Jun Loayza who, after getting over a million in funding and successfully selling two companies, left his current startup to pursue a lifestyle business.

3. You won’t wait years to turn a profit.

When you work for yourself, your overhead is limited. Salaries, office space, benefits? That’s all on you. I started my most recent business with less than $500 and it took me three sales to become profitable. Most startups are lucky to be profitable after three years!

Lifestyle business4. You can work from a beach with a Mai Tai.

You know that dream everyone had after reading “The 4-Hour Workweek” where they’re chillin’ on a beach with a cocktail, working from a laptop? That really is possible. This year I’ve already worked from places like Vail, Playa del Carmen, Cuba, New York, China and Jordan among others — all without skipping a beat in my business.

5. You’ll have more flexibility than Gabby Douglas.

You wanted increased flexibility and control in your life? Fat chance in a startup, especially when you’re playing with someone else’s money. As a lifestyle entrepreneur, you truly have the flexibility to set your own schedule. For many, that’s more time with friends and family; for others, it’s travel and adventure. You get to decide.

6. Stress is minimized.

Thoughts like “How am I going to make payroll this month?” and “Revenues were 30 percent less than projections, what will the investors think?” or “My partners and I have drastically different opinions of where the business should go, what do I do?” are all common issues in a startup. A lifestyle entrepreneur has no one to answer to but themselves, thus reducing the stress that comes with common business problems. 

7. You can become a modern-day Renaissance person.

I can’t focus on just one thing; I’m always all over the place. Being a solopreneur has forced me to learn how to handle all aspects of business — marketing, accounting, sales…you name it, I do it. In this position, you grow your expertise and become a more well-rounded business person, and that will undoubtedly help you in any future endeavors. 

 

Much of what Ogle says has basis. Yet, when I think of a lifestyle business, the image that comes to mind is of a semi-retired person who has enough savings that income needs are very minimal. Solopreneur, a term used under the category of Renaissance leadership, seems more apt. The beauty of not being a sole proprietorship, however, is the opportunity to create jobs, build community, and share life with others. At EntreDot, we often refer to such an enterprise as a “Main Street business.” These types of businesses represent about 35%  of start-ups, where fast growth (often venture or angel-backed) is about 5%, and sole proprietorships about 60%. 

Let’s go create more Main Street businesses that have many of the benefits espoused above, but also help grow the economy for someone other than just ourselves!