Do you ever watch the television program Shark Tank? I watch Shark Tank all the time. The premise of the show is simple, there are 4 or 5 “sharks” (aka extremely wealthy business celebrities) who are pitched various businesses and products by hopeful guests looking to gain a financial investment in exchange for an ownership stake in their company, from one or more of the sharks. Occasionally, the show will feature a guest with an innovative business idea or product that isn’t quite fully developed into a sustainable business model. One of the sharks will invariably tell this guest, “Sorry, you have a great idea or product, but you are an inventor, not an entrepreneur.” Very, very rarely do the sharks invest their cash into any idea that is not backed by a legitimate business structure and that is not already turning some amount of profit. That’s just the way the show works. So then the guest walks away with no investment cash wondering why they aren’t considered by the Shark Tank to be a true entrepreneur.
So what is an entrepreneur? Well from Shark Tank we can deduce that it is not simply an inventor. A great definition of entrepreneurship comes from Freebase: entrepreneurship is the act of being an entrepreneur or “one who undertakes innovations, finance and business acumen in an effort to transform innovations into economic goods”. The key phrase there is “transform into economic goods”. So you have a great idea. Excellent, good for you. Can you, however, take that idea, product, service or innovation and transform it into economic goods? And hopefully, you can make a profit doing it? If the answer is yes, then you are an entrepreneur.
We are living in a popular culture today that promotes and glamorizes entrepreneurship more than any other time in history and for good reason; since the stratospheric leap in modern technology, it has never been easier to launch an entrepreneurial idea and make it soar. Mavericks and innovators like Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates have almost been deified in our pop culture. The allure of being a successful entrepreneur floats over our culture like smoke. I defy you to go one single day without hearing or reading the following phrases somewhere in your regular media consumption: “Be Your Own Boss” or “Work From Home”. Sure who doesn’t want to be their own boss, set their own hours and work from home in their bathrobe? But just like smoke, being a successful entrepreneur can be an extremely elusive thing to grasp. A research study conducted by UPS showed that 48% of ALL Americans said they dream of starting their own business. That is an astounding statistic. But caution America, according to a Bloomberg study, 8 out of 10 new businesses fail within 18 months and according to Business News Daily, 59% of small-business owners today say it’s harder to do business now then when they started their business.
Being truly successful at any venture is difficult, but the statistics show that is particularly difficult in a new business venture. If you are a successful entrepreneur you probably have two character traits in abundance: courage and perseverance. It’s scary to quit that salaried position to go out on your own. That decision takes serious guts. And times will get difficult. At some point along the way, clients, projects and customers might dry up for a time. Will you have the perseverance and the patience to stick with it? That’s true entrepreneurship, that even a shark from Shark Tank can appreciate.