Month: April 2020

Entrepreneurs Rise to Challenges

Fear and panic are dictating many of the decisions made during these days of the coronavirus. Those feelings of dread are justifiably centered around the concern that you or your loved ones may contact this pathogen and become ill. This double black swan occurrence impacting our public health and economy is causing skyrocketing levels of anxiety for many in the United States. Even after taking all the steps needed to protect oneself from the virus such as social distancing and washing one’s hands, there are elements out of our control regarding the probability of getting infected.

A possible way to alleviate some of that anxiety, particularly regarding monetary matters, and as a hedge against more layoffs and a further downturn, is taking charge of your financial destiny. It may seem counterintuitive, but the present might not only be a good time to start a business, it may be a necessity given where we may be headed. Never in history has it been easier to plug in a computer, make a call, reach out, write a business plan, and begin executing right now on building a business. Previous limitations such as access to capital, talent, and infrastructure no longer exist. It’s true that it may be more difficult to start that business you’ve been thinking about now than it was six months ago, but without a possible source of income in the near to medium term, or a reduction of your salary, you may have no choice. Starting a business is not an exercise in improving your mental health, but any action is better in empowering you with the feeling you’re moving things forward.

 

 

What kind of business

A caveat here; while there are opportunities during this crisis in high-growth areas such as remote working/communications, digital health, and SaaS products many of them will require being backed by angel investors and venture capitalists. If you have an idea in those or related fields and can put together an MVP, (a minimum viable product) and can additionally spend a few months without a salary while you look for capital, then go for it. Otherwise, the possible business ideas we are focusing on look to generate cash from day one.

While there is a lot of “common knowledge” in the entrepreneur space of not “scratching your own itch” as covered in this Harvard Business Review article, many of us don’t have the luxury today to go out and acquire new skills. If you possess such abilities as writing copy or understanding sales it is better to start with what you have, even if that means putting a profile up on a site like Fiverr to start pitching possible clients immediately in the effort to build a business.

In a future article we’ll further cover some business concepts, but some ideas could include launching an e-commerce brand using marketplaces such as Amazon or platforms such as Shopify, personal coaching, or other professional consulting services. Given the quarantine times we are currently experiencing, even services such as digital marketing for brands who need online exposure and tutoring kids stuck at home on Zoom could be a start. If you’re reading this article you most likely have an idea or two regarding the type of business you’d like to build; the common denominator is that all these businesses have close to zero overhead to start.

Control your destiny

We’ll start with the most important and existential reason to start a business (including a side hustle) during this period, and that’s to put food on the table. If you look back only a few generations ago, before the United States’ economic landscape was filled with corporations, many workers made a living owning a store, trading, or even running a farm. They had no choice because there was no one to whom they could submit a resume. It wasn’t called being an ‘entrepreneur’ back then, but simply, ‘making a living’. They were the original entrepreneurs, and this was the way of life for generations stretching back thousands of years. To understand how much being entrepreneurial is in our DNA, the History of Entrepreneurship mentions that “the first known trading between humans took place in New Guinea around 17,000 BCE, where locals would exchange obsidian for other needed goods – like tools, skins, and food.”

 

 

 

Many budding entrepreneurs believe starting their own business will free them from a schedule, answering to a boss, or not having to deal with other people’s problems. This, however, is as far from reality as you can get. There will always be difficulties, often more so, when you start your own business. The difference is that you are executing against what your wishes are, building something of your own which you have equity in, and which could generate for you the biggest financial returns. For some lifelong entrepreneurs building businesses is their destiny.

Seeing opportunity in the bad

As Baron Rothchild stated when taking advantage of bad times, “buy when there is blood in the streets”. There are always opportunities in economic downturns. Talent and eager money will flow to those who take the lead in creating new opportunities for wealth creation. Some of the world’s most iconic brands, as well as half of Fortune 500s were started during difficult economic periods including Disney, IBM, and Microsoft. Many of these companies’ founders didn’t have the luxury of analyzing a market report of when the ideal time was to open shop, they just needed to make money.  

Mark Twain’s famous contrarian view that, “whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect” may apply to today’s current events as whole industries are being upended while new ones are being created. It’s not just the news stories about the travel industry being decimated and Zoom doing extremely well; it’s about savvy entrepreneurs who see around corners and will come up with new products we don’t even know we need yet, such as in the emerging social distancing economy.

Focus on creating a real business

During boom times when money is flowing many ideas that aren’t fully formed often receive funding. People buy non-essential items without a second thought and consumption is rampant as there is a perception that good times will continue indefinitely. Additionally, people who may have started businesses for the wrong reasons such as maintaining an ‘entrepreneur lifestyle’ (on social media) enter the fray. With the downturn many of these people will be out on the street if their company does not offer a real solution to consumers.

Times like this focus the mind and make entrepreneurs think about what product or service is essential, as well as the most cost-effective way for them to get it out there. What product solves people’s problems right now? This is a much more solid foundation when starting a business by knowing it was created to satisfy real market needs, with limited resources, and under difficult conditions. When the economy does improve, (and things will get better) you will have built a business with a strong foundation. Business guru Peter Drucker stated this in the clearest terms: “business, that’s easily defined – it’s other people’s money.”

 

 

Where the rubber hits the road

This could be a trial by fire if you choose to build a business today whether by choice or necessity. Many possible competitors may lose their heads, while others will be skittish when they need to be aggressive. Entrepreneurship, and striking out on your own shows a lot of courage and character, both of which are in short supply these days.

Given the risk-averse effects of human nature, many people won’t pull the trigger on starting a business even when they have nothing to lose. While it can seem overwhelming to start, small steps every day and tenacious focus day in, day out, lead to success. It all starts with taking that first step. We don’t suggest starting a business in order to test yourself, or as some personal development experiment. Rather, you should start a business to solve a problem and create value. Making money and getting paid are the by-products of creating value for customers. However, you will learn a lot about yourself, business, and the world around you when embarking on an entrepreneurial journey. 

We will look back on these days and remember where we were during the Pandemic of 2020. We will remember our actions, and the time will pass by either way while we sit in quarantine. The choice is either sitting at home anxious and full of despair as our bank accounts deplete or taking the initiative to build something. History may or may not judge you for not acting (you may have the next Facebook within you), but you may look back in regret knowing that you didn’t even try. This does not need to be a highly emotional decision, but if there was ever a time to find a new way to make a living, it is now.      

Why Play With Entrepreneurship Now

a stack of books relating to startups and entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is the path forward. During these times our economy and healthcare systems are facing an unprecedented crisis, there is a widespread panic not felt in generations, and policymakers are uncertain about tomorrow. It remains to be seen just how much this will affect the global economy, but changes will certainly take place, particularly with our supply chain, and the United States’ view of globalization.

Part of the uncertainty many Americans feel is that their jobs and, ultimately, their employers dictate their ability to put food on the table. There are only so many factors people can control; we are still at the whim of the economy, the markets, and mindsets that do not free us to explore other economic opportunities. If the economy in this country does worsen, and there are many indications that it will, having the confidence to know one can generate wealth on their own is empowering. In addition, after this downturn a period of rebuilding will happen, one that will be led by entrepreneurs looking to generate opportunities and capitalizing on markets with few competitors.

Entrepreneurs who have founded high-growth startups such as Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk as well as entrepreneurs turned investors such as Mark Cuban have been lionized in the media. While their endeavors have created thousands of jobs globally it is important to understand exactly what entrepreneurship is. High-growth venture backed startups are one (small) example of what entrepreneurship looks like, but do not exemplify the range of small businesses, agencies, and solo entrepreneurs across this country.

According to Wikipedia the definition of entrepreneurship is thecapacity and willingness to develop, organize and manage a business venture along with any of its risks to make a profit.” In simple terms, it is the process a person embarks on, knowing the risks involved, to generate wealth. There are several attributes we’ll explore below that are key regarding the definition of entrepreneurship and could serve as a guide for someone going down this path.

The creation of value

If an entrepreneur is not creating value and solving a problem, she does not have a business that will ultimately succeed. Being an entrepreneur, a business owner, or a founder is based on the same idea. It’s not about making money for money’s sake, it’s about creating value. One creates value by solving people’s problems, and when entrepreneurs understand this idea at the gut level and focus on solving big problems by driving the most value, they become very financially successful. 

Oftentimes, budding entrepreneurs enter this space, particularly with the creation of a startup, in order to make significant amounts of money when in fact they should be thinking about how to create value at a mass scale. While companies certainly face their own set of unique challenges, tech companies such as Facebook have been able to create mass value by offering billions of people the ability to communicate instantly. Uber is another example, as the company fundamentally simplified transportation for millions across the globe as well as offering employment opportunities for thousands. Local entrepreneurs can do their part by focusing on a certain population and creating a product or solution which that group needs.  

Being able to analyze risk/risk-taking

There is a commonly held belief that entrepreneurs are high-flying cowboys (or cowgirls) due in part to the mythology around people like WeWork’s Adam Neumann or Spanx’s Sarah Blakely. High risk, venture backed tech companies reward young founders with this aggressive mindset towards risk. The reality for most entrepreneurs is far from that, as according to this study done by MIT Sloan the average age of an entrepreneur is 42 years old. By that point in life many people have families, mortgages, and other responsibilities so they are going in eyes wide open into building a business.  

They understand there are risks involved and hedge those risks (ex., keeping overhead costs low, employee remote workers, etc.) so that if things don’t turn out on the time frame they anticipate (they never do) they’ll have the financial runway to continue to fight another day. Things not working out are part of the process; many times, aspects of the business such as testing a product, getting product-market fit right, and securing initial customers takes time. There is an excellent concept by serial entrepreneur and NYU Stern marketing professor Scott Galloway on what risk means, and that is being able to “sign the front, and not the back, of checks.” Taking risks is an important part of being an entrepreneur given the low success rate of most endeavors, however being able to properly analyze risk is certainly not the cowboy behavior associated with throwing caution to the wind.   

Salesmanship and communication

If an entrepreneur cannot communicate the value of her offering pervasively then she will not be able to succeed. An entrepreneur/leader must be able to sell the idea of the company’s value to possible customers, convince investors to put their money into the company, and recruit the most talented employees. We often see this struggle with great technical founders who create revolutionary products yet who are uncomfortable with the process of selling. On the flipside, we see many good salespeople who are founders selling products the market does not actually need, but who are able to convince people to buy by appealing to their emotions.

When it comes down to one skill, persuasion is the most important. That does not mean you need to be a natural born salesperson to be an entrepreneur; these skills can be learned, particularly conveying your company’s value with written communication. Public speaking is another skill which can be learned. Most people are terrified by the act so those who do it confidently will stand head and shoulders above the rest. In the sales skillset arsenal, one of the most powerful tools is active listening. This is a skill many leaders do well in order to truly understand the other side’s needs and is something you can start doing today.

Versatilely of skills/delegation

No entrepreneur who ever started their own company was exempt from doing things they may have not been comfortable with such as taxes, understanding insurance, etc. It is very much acceptable to be hopefully average at many of these tasks, if one understands the basics of what it takes to run a business and can delegate said tasks to other people. We are in a period where the cost of outsourcing so much of our back office (or automating it) is as simple as signing up for a monthly payment plan.

An entrepreneur must manage everything, not do everything, and continue to be the persuasive force driving the endeavor. For solo entrepreneurs and small businesses, a suite of low-cost tools exists. For those building large companies there are whole industries of part-time freelancers and consultants to whom one can delegate tasks. Successful platforms (started by entrepreneurs) such as Upwork and Fiverr are geared towards just that. It is important to understand that many successful entrepreneurs are particularly good with one or two skills, while the rest are delegated to those around them.

The ability to fail publicly… and pick one’s self up again

This may seem harsh to many people, but in this age of constant notifications and updated LinkedIn profiles one’s peers will know if that person has embarked on a new endeavor. In addition, as promoting on social platforms is basically free it is the first step many take in building their business. Fear of failing publicly, particularly in many cultures across the world is akin to a social death sentence. In the United States, a country built on entrepreneurs and dreams, failure may be painful in the short term, but it is nonetheless necessary to embrace. Wisdom from Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech could prove to be relevant:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming.”

You must be the man or woman in the arena in order to succeed. This is probably one of the biggest open secrets out there, as public failure, and not personal financial ruin stops many people who aspire to execute against their dreams and build a company.

The common perception of entrepreneurship today glorifies the most high-risk venture backed endeavors, and not the unsung heroes and business owners who are shaping the economic landscape here in the United States. It is not only something positive but also vital to our country’s success that entrepreneurship is a desirable path for those looking to embark on, but it is important to understand the above concepts in order to have a chance when successfully building a business.