Defining an ‘entrepreneur’

Keen readers may have noticed that I’ve been using inverted commas around the word entrepreneur. The reason for that is because we’ve yet to establish what the hell the word actually means let alone if I’ve been using it in the right context.  To start off I googled the root meaning. The French word ‘entreprendre’ dates back to the 13th century. It means one who undertakes or does something. It was popularised in the 1800s by the economist Jean Baptiste Say to mean a person that creates value in the economy by moving resources from areas of low productivity to high productivity to increase yield. Over the years the use of the word has matured with various economists including the notion of taking risk but the essence has remained the same.

This was all from a quick google – so any smart ass that wants to correct me can go on right ahead in the comments. My own thought of what an ‘entrepreneur’ is, is a person that aims to create and build a business and taking on the risk associated with it. I don’t think I am too far off with my own definition so at the very least I’m on the right track with my initial thoughts.

How do I use that to help me? I’ll start with the aspect of risk. A CEO or VP of a FTSE 100 company may go and use the corporate resources to build a new business but they do not normally assume personal risk. The company absorbs that on their behalf. In addition any success is most likely shared with the wider shareholders, their bonuses may not fully reflect the value generated. So they’re not entrepreneurs. I mention the corporate angle as this is where most of my own experience has been . If I had a $500,000 mishap you may get a rap on the knuckles but you move on. If I had a personal loss of that much, most likely I’d be in a  game over scenario with my venture and out on the street. That distinction should caution an ‘entrepreneur’ to be wary with their ambitions and start at a manageable level they can deal with and build sustainably.

Next up is the idea of shifting resources to increase yield. I left my job is because I think the alternative will increase my own return. Maybe not in the short term but at least in the mid term.  But a new business is your own baby. You want it to succeed. What if it looks to be a sinking ship? Do we ensure we can maintain objectivity. Have we got well defined metrics to help us?  And maybe we need some other people to help provide us with that? ‘Pivoting’ and moving in another direction may be necessary. Keep an open mind and accept criticism.

One thing not explicitly mentioned in the definition is ‘vision’. The need to keep a clear thought on where you see your plan and idea going. If you look at all the big tech success stories, I think all the entrepreneurial leaders have had this capability. Not only that but also being able to communicate in a way that people understand and are motivated to work towards your vision. It does raise the question on whether this can be taught or is this something out of inherit personality. I’m not sure, nor would I say I know how good I am at this. I think I can communicate what I want, but can I do the same with a less defined concept? If not am I thus doomed to fail? A point to ponder.

Finally we talk about failure. What if you do fail. Do you try again or accept you are not an ‘entrepreneur’. Is the whole starting a business simply an experiment in understanding this? Let’s take this further and question if we owe it to ourselves to at least once in our life attempt to be one. Failure does not mean you are incompatible working in a startup. It could mean you work better with someone who can communicate a shared vision more effectively or that you are more comfortable with a person who assumes the majority of the startup risk. Heck the whole thing may show you simply prefer working in a larger corporation.

I’ve taken a rather broad view on defining an ‘entrepreneur’ and heck I may discover in a year that this post is absolute nonsense. However having some framework or understanding at the beginning can’t be a bad thing either.

What do you think defines an ‘entrepreneur’? And for the ones who have tried being one, what did you learn?

J

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