Definitions do two things. They tell you what something is, and by default what it is not. So there is a sense in which a definition places a barrier around the particular concept you are defining, so it is a lot easier to determine what is included and what is not.
So it is, with the word ‘entrepreneur’ that I must confess falling into the trap of thinking the concept included a great deal more than it actually does. Coming from the French, (no surprise there) its original meaning was someone who organizes a business or develops an idea and takes responsibility for its operation, its profits and its losses.
Now over the two hundred years since it was first used, entrepreneur has come to mean someone who especially develops a new concept. So, by this more restrictive definition Bill Gates, for example, would be an entrepreneur, whereas Donald Trump would not.
Let’s then consider how an entrepreneur might function and see whether or not any new information is brought to bear on our understanding.
Usually, entrepreneurs start small and grow their influence with the business. The reason for that is quite simple. Developing a new idea also means developing a new market. Until the entrepreneur has actually started production of their product, any demand for such an item would have been, at best, a fleeting thought in a few people’s minds. For example, there was really no demand for pet rocks until Gary Dahl made them available in 1975. At least, none of the people I knew before that time ever confided in me that they had a pet rock in their closet. Yet, within six months he sold five million! Now there was a true entrepreneur! And a rich one, too. At three dollars profit per unit, Dahl made $15 million when that was a lot of money. Dahl’s only other claims to fame are an award for terribly bad prose and a book on the basics of advertising. None the less, he still falls into the category of entrepreneur.
At the time, Dahl, who was an out of work advertising man came across the idea for his venture one night over some beers in the local hotel. The topic of conversation was about the high cost of pets and their maintenance. His entrepreneurial flair came to the fore when he actually took an idea that formed in his mind that night and produced something in response to the problems pet owners had expressed. He invented the perfect pet that cost very little to purchase and nothing to maintain. The rock itself was not the actual product. Anyone could take a rock and stick a couple of eyes on it. What people bought was the instruction manual that went with the rock, which showed owners how to bathe, train, generally care for their pet rock.
Some suggest that the entrepreneurial spirit is something you are born with. Others argue that it is something you can develop through training. Personally, I sit comfortably between the two camps. People with the potential to be entrepreneurs are born with the personality and traits that may or may not find expression at some time in their lives. But that does not mean they are born with all it takes to establish and run an entrepreneurial business. For that they need some development and honing of skills.
It is in the actual establishment of the business that an entrepreneur really shines through. While many might counsel against even considering, let alone starting such a venture, the entrepreneur will step out boldly and prove that it is possible. That takes a sense of adventure and self belief that is sadly lacking for many people. Those sorts of attributes cannot be learned. They come, instead, as part of the package provided at birth.
At the beginning of this new century where the only thing we can know for sure is that there will be change, the opportunities for entrepreneurs seem limitless. Indeed, it is those who are prepared to step forward into the unknown, confident in their own ability for success that makes life so much more interesting and less foreboding for the rest of us. Entrepreneurs, past present and future, we salute you!