Monday, July 13, 2009

Entrepreneurship requires four areas of mastery

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat. — Theodore Roosevelt

MOST people dream of being their own “boss” at some point in life. However, we quickly lose that dream as the harsh realities of the world kick in. Some of us may have dabbled in a venture and it failed, adding further proof that we were not meant to be entrepreneurs.

I remember my first “official” business venture when I was at university. A few of us got inspired by Michael Dell and decided to start a company assembling computers and selling them to students.

As we grew, we decided that we needed to run the business professionally and buy inventories to reduce customer waiting time. Besides, there were huge savings in buying bulk. But Murphy’s Law hit us – new technology arrived and we were stuck with huge levels of obsolete inventory.

We were crushed and gave up. Our little entrepreneurship team disbanded and we took up “real” employment. But the desire to make a difference and change the world continued to burn in my soul. And so I kept trying little ventures, failing but learning from these failures till we finally succeeded.

There is a myth that entrepreneurs have special traits that distinguish them from other people or they have some sort of secret method to success. No entrepreneur, including Richard Branson, has a secret formula. Entrepreneurship is not easy. But, it can be learned and should be taught to everyone.

Based on our research of 500 entrepreneurs, we found four areas of similarities among the majority of successful entrepreneurs: personal mastery, business mastery, entrepreneurship mastery and leadership mastery.

The key to personal mastery is self awareness. The best entrepreneurs know what their strengths are and they leverage on them. Walt Disney was so passionate about drawing cartoons, he created an enterprise that drew from his strength. In addition to knowing oneself, the best entrepreneurs learn from an early age how to create, communicate, influence, and develop their personal effectiveness.

Business mastery is the ability to think strategically, understand industries, new trends and changes and innovate in new spaces. Akio Mori, co-founder of Sony, said: “Carefully watch how people live, get an intuitive sense as to what they might want and then go build it. Don’t do market research.” Mori turned a small department store into the world’s most successful consumer electronics firm.

AirAsia, with its tagline “Now Everyone Can Fly”, identified a gap (poor people who couldn’t fly), built a business by leveraging on the new technology (Internet) and built efficient processes to enable it to execute its business model (low cost). Business mastery is about developing “a vision of extraordinary possibility.” Steve Jobs’ vision to “get a computer in the hands of everyday people” sparked the PC revolution.

Entrepreneurship mastery is the technical skills needed, including the day-to-day mechanics of running a business, producing products, delivering services, making money and managing people. At Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, its founders, are not its CEOs. Eric Schmidt, a savvy leader, was made Google CEO, as its founders did not have enough entrepreneur and management know-how to run the business.

The final key is leadership. And at the heart of leadership is decision making. Entrepreneurs must learn to make good decisions quickly. Entrepreneurs bounce back quickly and learn from bad decisions made. The main reason for most failed start-ups is leadership failure. Steve Jobs was fired from the company he started because of his ego. Likewise, many start-up leaders fail due to lack of leadership to engage, encourage and develop their employees.

To master these four areas requires learning and practice which many new entrepreneurs don’t invest in. Nearly 95% of all entrepreneurial efforts fail. If we closely study these failures, it is usually a lack of mastery in one or all of these areas.

It is disheartening to see entrepreneurs try so hard and yet fail to fulfil the passion of their heart. Li Ka-shing never stopped learning. “As I didn’t have much capital, I did everything myself,” Li recalls. From learning about accounting to how to fix the gears of his equipment, Li says he was always learning.

We recently set up a learning space for entrepreneurs called the Leaderonomics Entrepreneur Academy (LEA). We kick off next month with a special boot camp for entrepreneurs who want to keep learning. One of my dreams is to see as many entrepreneurs having access to learning and growing, and change the statistics of start-up failures.

Every great entrepreneur was once an amateur. There is an old saying that goes, “there are three kinds of people in the world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who don’t even know anything is happening.”

It’s never too late to learn and become a person who makes things happen in this world. Yes, you can dream.

Roshan Thiran is an expert in talent management and has a passion for helping people fulfil their potential.

Note: Roshan Thiran will be the keynote teacher at the LEA Camp, a special action-learning camp inspiring people to entrepreneurship greatness.

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