Photo credit: Moyan | Flickr
By ROSHAN THIRAN
“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checked by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not 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 bulk-buying. 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 until we finally succeeded.
There is a myth that entrepreneurs have special traits that distinguish them from other people or have some sort of secret method to success. No entrepreneur, including Sir Richard Branson, has a secret formula. Entrepreneurship is not easy. But, it can be learnt and should be taught to everyone.
Based on our research of 500 entrepreneurs, we found four areas of similarity amongst 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 leverage them. Walt Disney was so passionate about drawing cartoons, he created an enterprise that drew from his strength. In addition to knowing yourself, 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 Morita, 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.” Morita turned a small department store into the world’s most successful consumer electronics.
AirAsia, with the tagline “Now Everyone Can Fly”, identified a gap (poor people who couldn’t fly), built a business by leveraging 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, Page and 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 these areas.
It is disheartening to see entrepreneurs try so hard yet fail to fulfil the passion of their hearts. 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.
And being an entrepreneur is not something confined to your own business. The spirit of entrepreneurship is much sought out in numerous companies. People with the entrepreneurial spirit are proactive, love to create, take calculated risks and ultimately are successful at what they do.
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.
How Ken’s entrepreneurial spirit created the PlayStation
Not many people know who Ken Kutaragi is. Kutaragi was the inventor of the Sony PlayStation. Even less people know the struggle that he had to go through in getting the PlayStation to the market. In 1990, Sony was struggling in a partnership with Nintendo to create a new video game product. The head of that project was Kutaragi. After numerous discussions, the partnership failed to materialise and most of the Sony executives decided to withdraw from the market.
But Kutaragi saw that Sony could create this product by itself. He tried to convince the Sony leaders but to no avail. He ended up working secretly and after a year of constantly threatening to quit if he was not allowed to pursue his dream, he was allowed to manage a small team to develop the PlayStation. By 1994, the first game console was released and PlayStation became the most popular video-game console in the world. By the end of the 90s, it was so popular that it alone generated 40% of Sony’s profit.
Kutaragi’s charisma, daring, and relentless entrepreneurial spirit created the PlayStation. Even though it took him so long to get approval and win the respect of other Sony executives, he never gave up. Ken constantly displayed his entrepreneurial spirit in everything he did.
He convinced the company to take another big risk on his vision when it began work on PlayStation 2. Instead of using already built components, everything in the PlayStation 2 was designed from scratch. The cost of developing it grew and grew. Other Sony executives felt unease and set up a deal with Microsoft to work together on an online video game business. Kutaragi met with Microsoft chairman Bill Gates in 1999, but could not see eye-to-eye with Gates’s vision of the business.
When the PlayStation 2 made its debut in April 2000, it was a hit, but Sony found it difficult to mass-produce the game console’s chips. The company had to pour more money into PlayStation 2, bringing the development cost up to US$2.5bil. Meanwhile, Microsoft announced the Xbox. Sony lost huge amounts of money that year and Kutaragi was directly held responsible. But he didn’t lose heart.
He kept on believing and soon, PlayStation 2 sales rallied. The following year PlayStation 2 captured about 70% of the home-gaming market. Within a few years, PlayStation was generating 60% of Sony’s profits. And Kutaragi, the entrepreneur in Sony, tasted victory yet again.
Like Kutaragi, you too can showcase the spirit of entrepreneurship in the company you work for. You don’t need to have your own business to become an entrepreneur. Just be proactive and relentless and you will succeed.