One of today’s most-desired professional monikers is that of “entrepreneur.” The term was coined around 1800 by Jean-Baptiste Say, a French economist with controversial ideas in favor of free trade and lifting constraints around business. He viewed the breed of business person who embodied these ideas to be “entrepreneurs,” which loosely translates to adventurers. Look it up — you might be enlightened by its synonyms, like tycoon and speculator.
The entrepreneurs Say described sought out inefficient uses of resources and capital, and moved them into more productive, higher-yield areas, while seeking opportunities for profit and, by doing so, created new markets and fresh opportunities. Today the definition has evolved, but an entrepreneur can generally be understood as a person who starts and organizes a business, usually with both considerable initiative and financial risk.
To begin a successful entrepreneurial journey, one should start with an idea that fills a need and a want, and then inspire others to help fulfill the vision — whether that be employees, customers or investors. But to get buy-in from investors, an entrepreneur needs to be viewed as a good risk, and a person with perseverance and resilience.
So, think you have what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur? Before you embark on your entrepreneurial journey, consider these questions below.
How do you feel about risk?
Are you willing to take on an enormous amount of personal and financial risk with the aspiration to transform an idea into a great fortune? Or do you want to change the world with solutions created by your company’s products or services? Or have you dreamed of the freedom to live life as the boss, regardless of what it takes? If your answer is yes, then you’re well on your way to becoming a successful entrepreneur. (Frankly, I didn’t know I was an entrepreneur until someone else dubbed me one at age 42; heck, before then, I thought I was just trying to make payroll!)
Further, ask yourself this: Is being an entrepreneur a passing identifier for you until the next job comes around (like being a “consultant” in the 2000s), and are you willing only to risk others’ money and not your own? If yes, then entrepreneurship isn’t for you.
Are your expectations realistic?
Back in the 1980s, I worked in the semiconductor industry in the heart of Silicon Valley, which was full of startups. We didn’t call ourselves “entrepreneurs.” Instead, you were either the principal founders or working for them (and for little-to-not-much pay — mostly none!).
Now, with four decades of entrepreneurship under my belt, I’m often asked what it’s like to be an entrepreneur. Those asking the question make it sound like being an entrepreneur is glamorous — always tied to fun and wealth. That’s usually not the case, and being an entrepreneur isn’t for the faint of heart. If you connect entrepreneurship with glamour and riches, you might want to find another line of work.
Are you willing to learn and grow?
The Capital Region has many shining examples of people developing and honing their skills in the several incubators in our community, including my great friend and fellow “investor-preneur” Mark Haney, who is leading the community and the entrepreneurial revolution with his radio show and talents. We also have I/O Labs, the Urban Hive and Hacker Lab. We offer the peer-to-peer learning environment of Entrepreneurs’ Organization Sacramento (where I serve as board member), where some of the smartest and coolest entrepreneurs on the planet with some of the best run companies meet, learn and grow. We also boast the new Dale and Katy Carlsen Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Sacramento State, where I am a proud board adviser, mentoring others in identifying and developing their entrepreneurial skills.
Don’t let your ego get the better of you, ask for help, surround yourself with talent and other entrepreneurs, and endear yourself to a few good mentors.
Do you have the “It” factor?
Are entrepreneurs born? Is being an entrepreneur a matter of nature versus nurture? I personally believe that many elements of entrepreneurship can be developed, but I also believe entrepreneurs are markedly different from other people. They not only have a willingness to take on incredible risk, but also likely have characteristics like resilience and perseverance that make them more likely to succeed. And it helps to have the “It” factor, which means being able to develop a vision and a dream that you can clearly articulate, and get others to follow your lead.
Will you ride out the tough times?
Often, in my early years when I looked into the mirror, the reflection I saw lacked the faith and optimism that many associate with being an entrepreneur. I had to learn to overcome fear of ridicule and failure. To become a successful entrepreneur, learn to hone your skills and surround yourself with those that can help you mitigate risk without dilution of vision. Learn to seek the wisdom of those who came before you, and to work hard to find solutions where there appear to be none.
If you are an entrepreneur, you won’t quit, you can’t quit; because you possess a sheer determination to grow and make an impact on the lives of those around you. When you are successful on your entrepreneurial journey and have a successful exit, and take your first breath of that rarified air that fills your lungs for having done it … there is nothing like it! Nothing so gratifying and nothing so humbling.
So, make your vision clear, find your people, hone your skills as you set out on your very personal entrepreneurial journey. Many of us will be there for you along the way.