Entrepreneurs. They’re all around you. You might not have realised it, but you are living in entrepreneurial times. You might even live next door to one; it wouldn’t surprise me, they are as common as cheddar cheese.
What’s wrong with this you might ask? Well, strictly speaking, nothing. But I think that we are in danger, through over use of the word, of forgetting the real attributes of an actual entrepreneur.
Having the right attributes
Innovative and dynamic are just two of the most likely words that are associated with entrepreneurs. They too, in my opinion, have become over used.
Yes, the UK economy needs people with get up and go, but we should be careful with what we encourage. There is a significant difference between having an idea that leads to the creation of a product versus someone who has a knack of starting a business, employing people and building value time and time again.
Let’s be clear. I am not belittling people who have had the courage to start their own businesses. Far from it, this is one of the most thrilling and soul destroying things anyone can do. But one must be careful to identify the difference between a product and a company.
Look at Richard Branson. He might be trotted out every time an example of a great entrepreneur is needed, but he has impeccable credentials. He has a track record of taking often average companies and rebuilding them around great customer experience in order to create a brand that people trust. Do you even remember that Virgin Media used to be the much loathed ntl:Telewest? No, of course not. Because, quite simply, that’s the Branson magic.
Clearly, despite my best intentions, I do not yet qualify to be an entrepreneur. Having suffered the pain, the anguish and some limited success, I may have some of the scars, but not yet the proof of victory.
The truth is that very few do, and while there is a surge of goodwill towards people biting the bullet and starting their own business, the UK is still very afraid of failure. The numbers of entrepreneurs are tiny and are spread thin. That is why areas such as Tech City are so important, they provide that collaborative element to help people share successes and learn – be it in the pub on a “drinkabout” or over a sandwich at lunch.
An element of distinction
A product exists with users, but a company can only exist with paying customers and, believe me, there is a substantial difference.
There are many people out there creating great widgets, but few are sustainable businesses. It is relatively easy to build apps and products that don’t give back to society in the form of employment and tax, but growing a business to hundreds of employees and that contributes to the community time and time again is an extraordinary feat that few people will be able to look back and say, “I did that.”
In celebrating our new entrepreneurial culture, let’s not forget the definition of what this really is.
Extraordinary risk taking and passion, combined with an obscene amount of luck and recruitment of the finest talent and technology. Reliably and repeatedly defining the formula for creating value is what marks out the true entrepreneurs, and they need all the help we can give them
Robbie Hughes is CEO of cloud-based management platform Qinec.
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