Monday, 15 June 2015

Daughter: "Dad. Are you an entrepreneur? What's an entrepreneur?"

The other day my daughter was given a homework assignment by the Business Studies teacher at her high school. She was briefed to go and ask an "entrepreneur" a set of questions about what makes an entrepreneur.  Over dinner she asked me "Dad. Are you an entrepreneur  because I need to interview one.".  My immediate reaction was to try to back away from her tricky question.  Entrepreneur has become somewhat of an overused term that the panellists on "Have I got News for You" on the BBC joke is synonymous with the state of being "unemployed", mainly due to the multitude of false claims of being an entrepreneur from contestants on Alan Sugar's The Apprentice reality TV shows.

It used to be reserved for describing the likes of "inventors" and "billionaires" such as Sir Richard Branson or James Dyson, of the cyclone based vacuum cleaner fame. Putting the japes of comedians aside, today I think entrepreneur has become a term used to describe someone who has an idea and tries to bring it into reality, with a view to creating a successful business and ultimately lots of money.

The Collins English Dictionary (well the pocket version on my bookshelf) defines the word as meaning "a person who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit.".  

So what makes a successful entrepreneur. Well, I don't rate myself as "successful" - not just yet. If I was, I'd definitely be in the Caribbean right now, reading a good book and not writing a blog.  So perhaps my daughter should be asking what makes a happy entrepreneur such that they are more likely to become successful... Here's what I ultimately told her.

For me, being an entrepreneur is about dedication, passion and desire for the end goal - which has to be in some way to "add value".  I also don't think it necessarily means working all hours under the sun with unmanageable and constant stress. If being an entrepreneur is about leading the lifestyle you crave and being your own boss, what would be the point of being controlled and constrained by time and work pressure?

Being an entrepreneur therefore is partly about proper work/life balance. The two seem to meld into one, without either really dominating the other.  A family holiday, for example, is still relaxing even if you dip out every so often to check your emails - on the other extreme - what's the point being your own boss if you can't take time off with the kids? If you look at Richard Branson's photos on Twitter, you'll notice most of them are of him kite surfing, flying his balloon or doing some other leisure activity. He knows how to have fun and what matters and how to mix this with setting up and running successful businesses.

As for my daughter's assignment, her list of the characteristics of an entrepreneur ended up looking something like this:
  • They do what they enjoy.
  • They are passionate about what they do, without taking it too seriously - it's not the be all and end all, it's a means to an end.
  • They are expert planners but equally comfortable playing it by ear as events unfold
  • They want to make a difference. If you make a difference, someone, somewhere will be willing to pay for it. Then the profit will follow.
  • They observe and critique everything. If something doesn't work as well as it could, making it better will make a difference. And we know what making a difference leads to...
  • They have a good work/life balance. Because their goals are ultimately about doing what they enjoy, they can blend work life and personal life like an intricate weaving.
  • They make things happen. If you enjoy something, and you're clear what difference doing it will make, you're more inclined to work at it, overcome barriers and ignore (the worse barrier of all) those that say "can't, don't or no" to everything that's not already cast in stone.
On that basis, I think I can declare myself an entrepreneur without suffering the ridicule of one of Lord Sugar's wannabe prodigies.  

I hope my daughter gets a good mark for her homework assignment and that I haven't put her off being an entrepreneur completely.  In the meantime, what do you think? What's an entrepreneur mean to you?

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