What It Takes to Run Your Own Show
The 1990s have seen thousands of Americans start businesses, and many more are considering it. But what qualities define an entrepreneur? Irv Grousbeck, founder of Continental Cablevision (now MediaOne) offers some insights. He is now a business professor at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif. These remarks appeared in Stanford Business earlier this year.Skip to next paragraph
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These are extraordinary economic times.
Despite a net loss of jobs in heavy manufacturing over the past 20 years, our economy is vibrant. New jobs are created each year. These positions are not the result of big companies expanding their operations; they arise largely from entrepreneurial efforts, because individuals had visions they pursued and people in the marketplace were willing to buy the products and services flowing from those visions.
Yet most of us feel that we're observers, that we're on the outside of this wave of entrepreneurism. We ask ourselves: How would I become an entrepreneur if I wanted to? Are entrepreneurs born, like .300 hitters in baseball, or can they be made? If you think you might want to own your own company, try matching your outlook with five attitudes we've observed in most entrepreneurs.
1. An unending dissatisfaction with the status quo. You're not happy with things as they are. You think that you can do something better than it is now being done and that you can build a business around that notion.
2. A healthy self-confidence. You are willing to be lonely, to make tough decisions, to stand on a level of the organization chart with no peers, and to have the buck stop with you.
3. What I would call "responsible competence." You feel good at what you do, you think you can do more, and you're willing to stretch.
4. A concern for detail. You are meticulous by nature or astute enough to find a partner who is. There are very few successful entrepreneurs I have seen who are broad-brush people in all aspects of their lives. They may be generalists in some respects, but in the areas that are critical to success, they're meticulous.
5. And finally, perhaps most important, a tolerance for ambiguity. You are willing to accept an uncertain future. You're not sure that you will have a job tomorrow; you're not sure that you will have an income tomorrow. You're willing to give up the corporate environment that you know - the peer group, the customer base, the daily routines - and ready to establish your vision of a venture in the marketplace. A tolerance for ambiguity should not confused with a love of risk, because the best entrepreneurs I know are constantly asking themselves how to shrink risk out of a situation.
OK, you've matched up your attitudes with those that I've described and you pass. Maybe not a perfect match along all dimensions, but a pretty good one. The question becomes: How would you begin to become an entrepreneur? How might you go from employment to self-employment? How could you get from here to there?
LET me begin by identifying one thing you should not bring to your own business: money.