I wrote some thoughts about entrepreneurship a couple of weeks ago and the whole idea or exercise was: which key skills would I choose to “build” the perfect entrepreneur. I was glad (and surprised) to see how many people reacted, shared their opinions and wrote me privately with their views, ideas, suggestions, and questions. I had a very interesting couple of conversations since then about this topic and one of my questions to people that I really admire, and respect from an intellectual perspective was: Can you really build or educate the perfect entrepreneur? Are entrepreneurs born or made? and how important is education (not academic specifically…I’m talking about a broader education concept that includes self-education, research etc.) for “perfect entrepreneurs”
Some people think that there is no way to educate entrepreneurs. You are born an entrepreneur or not. Some people think that everyone could be an entrepreneur if he or she wants to do it and invest the specific effort to achieve that goal.
Some people think that everyone could be an entrepreneur if he or she wants to do it and invest the specific effort to achieve that goal.
I disagree with both theories and I have a “hybrid thesis” which is the following.
I think that entrepreneurs need some specific attitude or mindset that is probably related to their DNA and genes but that’s only a part of being a successful or “perfect entrepreneur”. It’s probably a similar situation that what positive psychology experts like Shawn Achor or Martin Seligman and their research say about happiness. Research support than a percentage of happiness is clearly in our genes but a significant percentage of our happiness can be learned, trained and activated through specific habits (being grateful, meditation, exercise, great relationships, being present, etc.etc.). I see entrepreneurship in a similar way. You need some “entrepreneurial genes” or like I called the “crazy genes” in order to even consider being an entrepreneur but that’s not enough. These “entrepreneurial genes” are related to things like risk aversion, moving out of your comfort zone, the “unknown world”, lack of security and predictable scenarios, lifestyle, etc. but many of the rest of the critical skills that I describe in my previous blog are skills that you can learn, be trained and achieve if you are serious and committed to your entrepreneurial goals. These skills are critical for success and survival in the startup world. Entrepreneurs who only have the “killer instinct” that I mentioned as the #1 skill on my list is simply not enough. That’s only the beginning of a long and challenging entrepreneurial journey. Like in every other journey in life, enjoying the ride, having a clear goal/destination in mind and choosing the right vehicle, gear and road are critical to achieving the final goal. The entrepreneur is the driver on this journey but needs to surround him or her with the right team, who help with different and complementary skills in order to build a successful and sustainable venture. When I’m interviewing entrepreneurial candidates for startups, potential co-founders or super early day employees, I always try to “convince them” to forget the idea of being an entrepreneur. Many of these people are brilliant minds, and they can make a fortune working in corporate America, enjoy security, long term planning and a very comfortable and rewarding life. I usually tell them that watching entrepreneurial movies or TV shows or reading publications around this topic is far from reality. There is no way to educate someone from an academic perspective on how “different” is the entrepreneurial life from those movies or shows. It’s like trying to explain someone how beautiful or unique is having a son or daughter. You have to live the experience, not watch a movie, TV show or read a book about parenting. All these things could help, and probably give you some perspective, but they are not “the real thing”. During some of these interviews is easy to read how genuine is the desire and conviction from candidates on joining the entrepreneurial journey or not. The “wannabe entrepreneur” is pretty easy to identify sooner than later.
The real entrepreneurial life happens during those days were some people will tell you “that’s a great idea, go for it” but will never answer again the phone or give you a meeting or some people will tell “you are such an idiot to quit your six figures job to start this idea from scratch” (usually these people are more sincere than the first one). The real entrepreneurial life happens in the middle of endless days of hard work, unlimited rejections, an emotional rollercoaster when one day you and the rest of the team are a bunch of genius minds and next month a bunch of morons and the following months genius again, and cycle repeats. The real entrepreneurial life is full of extreme sensations. Some people love the feeling and some people hate it and can’t even think to tolerate that lifestyle. All these things are simply impossible to teach in an HBS case study or any entrepreneurial classroom. You have to live these experiences and be honest with yourself about your happiness level living this life.
Now, all these things could sound negative about the entrepreneurial journey. Absolutely not, I think that they are realistic. I hate to see people thinking that the entrepreneurial life is cool, sexy, and fashionable. It’s a bit different. But, even with all those challenging differences that I mentioned before, I would not change it for anything else. The feeling of being able to move from “an idea to fix a problem” into a group of passionate, talented, committed and aligned team fixing that problem and creating a successful venture as part of that is simply amazing. That feeling, if it’s genuine, is significantly more important than the financial outcome of the startup. That feeling is the real entrepreneurial journey and you need your “crazy genes” and every single skill that you can learn in order to survive the emotional rollercoaster and enjoy the ride.