Entrepreneurship has become a popular buzz-word in many parts of the world and is often enthusiastically embraced by governments seeking to stimulate job creation and economic growth.
Successful entrepreneurs are frequently show-cased in the media and some have even achieved celebrity status. Yet this success is typically an outcome of years of struggle and hard work.
Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop once said “Nobody talks about entrepreneurship as survival, but that’s exactly what it is and what nurtures creative thinking”.
What she was highlighting is the need for entrepreneurs to apply creativity to generate innovative solutions to solving problems. However, she was also acknowledging the challenges that entrepreneurs have to overcome to achieve their goals.
As part of an MBA program in entrepreneurship at the University of Western Australia a study was undertaken to collect the case histories and lessons from 50 entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs ran their business ventures in a wide range of industry sectors.
What follows is a summary of the lessons learnt from this study, which provides insight into the challenges faced by entrepreneurs and their willingness to pursue their goals in the face of setbacks and hardship.
I have summarised a few of these entrepreneurs:
Case Example 1
This first entrepreneur was the founder of a successful HR consultancy services business. He claims to have made many mistakes in his business career with lots of financial costs. However, he commented that “if you are not making mistakes you are not learning”.
One previous venture failed because he did not get the right “people fit”. He knew that the partners were not quite right, but thought that he could solve it with hard work. This was not the solution because one of the partners lacked the same level of passion and commitment for the business.
The key things he seeks to avoid when hiring employees and engaging business partners are selfishness, poor ethics and the tendency to panic in a crisis. His approach to business decision making is: “know your numbers, know your customers and have the courage to live your dream”.
For this entrepreneur the key lessons he had learnt were:
- Realise that making mistakes is simply a part of the learning process.
- Make sure that you select your business partners carefully to ensure that they hold the same values as you, particularly their commitment and passion for the venture.
- Build your company around good people and take care to select those who are good team players.
- Focus on measuring the performance of the business.
- Focus on understanding what your customers’ needs and wants are.
- Have the courage to fulfil your vision.
Case Example 2
Our second entrepreneur established a successful engineering consultancy specialising in project management, process plant design and general engineering design for the minerals and metallurgical processing industries. He established his first business venture while living in Asia in the mid-1980s, but this failed and resulted in bankruptcy. He left Asia and returned home to work as a salaried manager, rebuilding his financial strength. The principal reason for this business failure was attributed to “ad-hoc or nil business planning”.
His current business venture was launched in the 1990s out of necessity when he was made redundant. He wrote the business plan for the company “over a single weekend”, but felt that he had a clear sense of direction for where it was heading. Since establishing the firm he has sought to involve business partners to join him. This has been motivated by a desire to build up a strong management and technical team and assist with future growth.
The key lessons he felt he had learnt were:
- Planning is valuable.
- Failure in business is nothing more than an opportunity to learn.
- The business model is more important than the documented business plan.
- You must have a clear vision for how the business model will work.
- Look to surround yourself with good people who can complement your own skills and share the load.
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