Saturday, January 29, 2011

Inside the Minds of Great Entrepreneurs

When I had the good fortune to be teaching entrepreneurship through Waukesha County Technical College and its great Small Business Center, I thought one of the significant missing pieces of that subject was the simple act of giving people permission to try, to act. Much of my curriculum was built around establishing ways people could give themselves that permission.

The cover story of the new Inc. Magazine for February 2011, is “Inside the Minds of Great Entrepreneurs”. I thought there was some excellent advice for taking action steps in the largely unknown space of innovation and business development.

If you’re on the sidelines thinking about starting a new enterprise it can be daunting to consider all the ‘rules’ that seem to be required to take the entrepreneurship step.

A new study looking for what distinguishes great entrepreneurs provides some highly valuable advice – and especially, permission - to think big and act fast.

Dr. Saras Sarasvathy at the Darden School of Business, at University of Virginia compared highly successful entrepreneurs to professional managers at major global corporations.

I recommend the article and the study, both linked below.

There are some great quotes to consider if you think you need to have everything locked-down and well known before acting (emphasis added by me):

“Somebody once told me the only thing you need is a customer. Instead of asking all the questions, I’d try and make some sales. I’d learn a lot, you know: which people, what were the obstacles, what were the questions, which prices work better. Even before I started production. So my market research would actually be hands-on selling.

“…pick your partners and package yourself early on before you have to put a lot of capital out. Chief among those influential partners are first customers. The entrepreneurs anticipated customer help on product design, sales, and identifying suppliers. Some even saw their first customer as their best investor.

And my favorite: “Entrepreneurs fret less about competitors, Sarasvathy explains, because they see themselves not in the thick of a market but on the fringe of one, or as creating a new market entirely. ‘They are like farmers planting a seed and nurturing it’, she says.”

If you think you need permission to take some actions steps, think again. The entrepreneurs Dr. Sarasvathy interviewed all had at least 15 years of entrepreneurial experience, have started multiple companies – both successes and failures – and have taken at least one company public. All were running companies they had founded and all had current revenues between $200 million and $6.5 billion across multiple industries.

“Sarasvathy concluded that master entrepreneurs rely on what she calls effectual reasoning. Brilliant improvisers, the entrepreneurs don’t start out with concrete goals. Instead they constantly assess how to use their personal strengths and whatever resources they have at hand to develop goals on the fly, while creatively reacting to contingencies. “

Amen. Seems like a good place to end, using text from the masthead of this Sustainable Work site: This site is about creating sustainable startups and growing emerging enterprises. It's about developing successful new products and innovating existing ones. Sustainable work means creating valuable solutions that fix real problems. Sustainable work means creating business processes that make you, your enterprise, and the world a better place. You can do it. Welcome.

How Great Entrepreneurs Think, Inc. Magazine. February, 2011. Written by Leigh Buchanan,

Dr. Sarasvathy’s full case study

Dr. Saras Sarasvathy at the Darden School of Business, University of Virginia.

Waukesha County Technical College, WCTC and their great Small Business Center

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