What is an Entrepreneur?
Entrepreneur: “A person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks to do so.”
From the Latin: entre and prendes meaning “to swim out” and “grab onto”. Or the French Entreprendre meaning “to undertake”
Maybe the best way to understand the word is to combine both the modern definition and the origin.
“A person who undertakes the mission to swim out into the unknown and grab onto something.”
The term Entrepreneur may have changed over the years, but two things have remained consistent: business and adventure.
What does an Entrepreneur Do?
Definitions aside, what do entrepreneurs actually do?
If you are in the process of launching a new business venture, you might answer this question with:
“Everything. For everybody. All the time.”
Entrepreneurship is undoubtedly a tough road to travel. But, for those wondering whether or not they should risk opening their own business, some specifics will help.
The daily tasks of an entrepreneur cover two categories: Mission and Operations
Every entrepreneur starts his or her journey with a mission or a vision. When thinking of a business mission, successful entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs (Apple) and Bill Gates (Microsoft) come to mind.
These two business giants crafted bold mission statements for their businesses.
Read Jobs’ Apple mission statement:
“To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.”
Now, read Gates’ Microsoft mission statement: “A computer on every desk and in every home.”
In 1980, when Gates first drafted Microsoft’s mission statement, this statement was borderline ludicrous. However, Microsoft’s current CEO (Satya Nadella) told USA Today that Microsoft achieved and outgrew its original mission statement by the turn of the 21st century.
Although Jobs’ mission statement is harder to measure, Apple has continuously built “tools for the mind that advance humankind” over the years.
Your entrepreneurial vision might be equally outlandish. But, it doesn’t need to be. You can become a successful entrepreneur with a much simpler mission.
If you have a knack for fixing cars and want to open an auto shop, your mission statement might be:
“Delivering convenient, affordable, expert vehicle maintenance for every driver in our town.”
If you are a retailer, your mission statement could be:
“Providing an inviting, comfortable environment where customers can purchase what they need to succeed in their personal goals and ambitions.”
The key to your mission is an action-oriented goal. This includes:
- A problem that your business will solve, AND
- A set of action items intended to solve the problem
For many entrepreneurs, the mission is the fun part. Dreaming up a vision and crafting it into an actionable mission statement creates joy and drives action.
The second reality of entrepreneurship, operations, is often the less attractive element of building a business.
Operations include everything outside the mission. The mission is the what I am going to do, operations is the how I am going to do it.
Sales, marketing, logistics, purchasing, accounting, customer service, raising capital, taking out the trash, cleaning the bathrooms. Everything.
Angie Hicks, founder of Angie’s List, embodied this sense of everything in the early days of Angie’s List.
She described her role to Guy Raz, on the How I Built This podcast:
“HICKS: We were a magazine and call-in service. So during the day, you’d call in, and you could ask me for the name of a plumber or an electrician. And then in the evening, I would go out door- to- door and also ask for reviews.
RAZ: “So you did everything.”
HICKS: “I did everything.”
Hicks continued to describe what “everything” included:
- “[F]or the first three or four months, I basically went door to door every day”
- When she decided that door to door was unsustainable, she raised $50,000 for marketing.
- When the phones started ringing due to the marketing money, she personally managed both phone lines to the office.
- When she didn’t know of a service that a customer requested, she would search for it until she found a match. Raz described her as “a human Google”.
Raz summarized, “Not only was Hicks sales, marketing, customer service, CFO and CEO. She was the actual product.”
If you are an entrepreneur, you may be able to relate to Angie Hicks.
If you are considering entrepreneurship, you need to ask yourself: do you want to be Angie Hicks?
The operations of entrepreneurship are tough. It takes courage to get started. It takes stamina to keep going. It takes a characteristic common to all successful entrepreneurs: grit.
Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn co-founder, describes the primary characteristic needed to become a successful entrepreneur during the Podcast Masters of Scale:
“I believe successful entrepreneurs need ideas, money, good timing and a hefty dose of luck. But none of those matter if you don’t have GRIT.”
So what is grit?
Hoffman describes grit as more than “sheer persistence” or “brute force”. Instead, Hoffman defines grit as equal parts of three essential elements:
- Laziness. Yes, laziness
Determination and ingenuity are self-explanatory. Refer back to the Angie Hicks story for a determination example. Ingenuity; return to the tech giants Gates and Jobs for illustrations.
But, laziness? What does laziness have to do with grit?
Hoffman suggests that laziness paired with determination and ingenuity forces a gritty entrepreneur to find shortcuts.
When your business is wholly reliant on your personal manpower to get off the ground and generating revenue, you must use shortcuts.
Fortunately, the modern entrepreneur has more technology-based shortcuts available than ever before. Consider the following list of tools and the business shortcut they provide:
- QuickBooks: accounting and payroll
- Zapier: business task automation
- Fiverr, Upwork, Task Rabbit: staff augmentation and freelance services
- WeWork: office space
- PayPal, Square: payment processing
- SquareSpace: website creation and content management
Why are shortcuts necessary? Because your time and energy are limited. There’s a common misconception that entrepreneurs work round the clock, day after day.
Anshula Chowdhury, CEO of Social Asset Measurements, combats this myth:
“I think it’s really easy to say that “entrepreneurs work all the time”. This statement also supports the myth of entrepreneurs as hyper hard-working geniuses that are not like the rest of humanity. That myth is quite damaging to individuals who pursue entrepreneurship and, actual society as a whole.
The reality is that the only way that entrepreneurs could “work all the time” is if they were somehow drastically, biologically different from the rest of humanity. As an entrepreneur, I don’t think entrepreneurs are so drastically different.
It is just not possible to work through all your waking hours without going through horrible burnout, losing sanity, and destroying your social supports.”
While Chowdhury’s debunks the overdramatized entrepreneurial lifestyle, Angie Hicks’ experience demonstrates that it’s a lot of work.
Hoffman’s’ laziness is the key to getting it all done without working nonstop. Find shortcuts, and leverage them as much as possible. Your success depends on it.
Successful entrepreneurs don’t share a single, common personality trait. Many are extroverts. But, Angie Hicks is a self-diagnosed introvert that hated making those door to door calls.
The common thread is Grit: a combination of determination, ingenuity and shortcuts.
How do you become an Entrepreneur?
If you are still interested in becoming an entrepreneur, you may wonder: how do you actually become an entrepreneur?
There’s no shortage of self-help books claiming to streamline your path to entrepreneurial success. In reality, there is no single path to success in business building.
The truth is: success begins with starting. Consider the early days of some of the most famous successful entrepreneurs:
- Virgin Brands (Richard Branson): Branson dropped out of school when he was 16 to start a youth-culture magazine with no funding. Within a few years, he expanded his venture to include a record shop, and eventually a record label–the beginning of the Virgin brand.
- Dyson (James Dyson): After making various products for other companies, Dyson began tinkering with a cyclone-based vacuum cleaner in his backyard shed. 15 years and 5,127 prototypes later, he finally created the first successful vacuum model for Dyson.
- Spanx (Sara Blakely): While selling fax machines as her full-time job, Sara Blakely started cutting off the feet of pantyhose to experiment with a new women’s undergarment and launching Spanx with $5,000 of her own money.
Branson, Dyson, and Blakely launched their ventures in dramatically different ways. Branson risked it all by dropping out of school.
Dyson spent years perfecting his product and testing various routes to market before eventually going to market with his namesake brand.
Blakely moonlighted Spanx for as long as possible while maintaining a steady income stream through a full-time job.
Their stories unite with a vision, and the first step towards realizing that vision.
Entrepreneurship is an adventure to achieve your mission. The path to achieving your mission is unknown, but it will include some failures and a lot of work.
Above all, you must start.