Cornerstones to Entrepreneurial Success
Reviewing the Four Cornerstones To Entrepreneurial Success
Over the years we have met with many of the best of the best of entrepreneurs and innovators. We have found that on the road to entrepreneurial success there are no shortcuts. If you are bent on finding a shortcut—the easy way—you are not working hard enough on the fundamentals.
As we witnessed in previous bubbles, some entrepreneurs may get away with it for a while, but there are no substitutes for the basics. And the first basic is good, old-fashioned hard work. Even with a lot of hard work, no business venture is going to grow unless it has a strong and sturdy foundation. With this in mind, let us review the four cornerstones to entrepreneurial success.
1. Commitment to the Opportunity
Commitment means being bound emotionally or intellectually to someone or something. In his book Made in America, Sam Walton advises: “Commit to your business. Believe in it more than anybody else. I think I overcame every single one of my personal shortcomings by the sheer passion I brought to my work. I don’t know if you’re born with this kind of passion, or if you can learn it. But I do know you need it. If you love your work, you’ll be out there every day trying to do it the best you possibly can, and pretty soon everybody around will catch the passion from you—like a fever.”
Because of the risks, entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. Ron Margolis, the first angel investor in Starbucks, supports this by saying, “It appears to me that people who succeed have an incredible drive to do something. They spend the energy to take the gamble. In this world, relatively few people are willing to take a large gamble.”
Len Bosack, co-founder of Cisco Systems, took a large gamble. His path to success was paved with endless hours of work. According to Bosack, “Sincerity begins at a little over 100 hours a week. You can probably get to 110 hours on a sustained basis, but it’s hard. You have to get down to eating once a day and showering every other day, things of that sort to really get your life organized to work 110 hours.” It is only beyond 110 hours that one gets to what Len calls “commitment.” To Dennis Conner, four-time winner of America’s Cup, true commitment is a “commitment to the commitment”—focusing to the point of excluding all else.
2. Strategic Leadership
Leadership in fundamentally new business activities is a long-term risk that requires a long-term strategic vision. Leadership in a new industry is seldom built in anything less than ten to fifteen years of very hard committed work. Strategic leaders are expert risk-technicians. They are experts at identifying risks, knowing how to manage around risks, and becoming comfortable in high-risk environments. They know that developing an effective strategy for dealing with risk and uncertainty sets apart the winners from those lost at sea.
In the darkest of dark nights, for thousands of years, from anywhere in the world sailors could look to the North Star Polaris for guidance. Strategic leaders too have that long-term vision—they can always look to their North Star and get back on the heading toward success. Strategic leaders must also have the capacity to solve an enormous set of problems. In sum, they must know how to choose which mountains to climb and which seas to cross. They need to know how to inspire their team to keep going, even in the fog of war—and most importantly how to stay together all the way to success.
3. Organizational Capability
Planting the seeds for a sustainable competitive advantage means creating a common body of knowledge, organizational intelligence, domain expertise, and experience.
Such organizational capability springs from three sources:
– Financial capability pertains to financial efficiencies—not just how to make a profit, but how to make wise investment decisions, and experience in providing a return to investors.
– Marketing capability pertains to building the right products, establishing a close relationship with customers, and having experience in effectively marketing products and services in the chosen industry.
– Technological capability pertains to technical innovation; R&D; being knowledgeable about new products, processes, and technologies; and experience in successfully bringing a new product to market.
Steven Jobs, CEO and co-founder of Apple Computer, once proclaimed that “these overnight successes sure take a hell of a long time.” Persistence means keep going even after setbacks, and converting the endless number of barriers and roadblocks into opportunities.
Persistence is to an entrepreneur what courage is to warriors. It becomes an unprogrammable stick-to-itiveness that never ceases to end. Soichiro Honda once said that “success can be achieved only through repeated failure and introspection. In fact, success represents 1 percent of your work which results only from the 99 percent that is called failure.”
Truly an inspirational and engaging leader, John Wooden says that success is a marathon not a sprint. As a basketball coach for the UCLA Bruins, he won ten national championships, including seven in a row from 1967 through 1973. Only six other men’s teams have won championships back to back, and none has managed three consecutively. But not many know that Wooden was at UCLA for thirteen years before he won his first NCAA college championship!
Dream It! Plan It! Do It!
We concur with James Collins, co-author of the bestseller Built to Last, who said that “entrepreneurship is becoming to the world what architecture is to the world of building buildings.” We feel that the true golden age of entrepreneurship is in front of us, not behind us. While the economy in general may still seem tough, we feel that there are many positive factors affecting entrepreneurs today.
Today’s creative disrupters will create new market opportunities and new groups of market leaders. We see that IT buyers are beginning to experiment with a range of new architectures and core technologies. Entrepreneurs can find and hire great people, and resources like real estate are plentiful. Business plans are more realistic and the best entrepreneurs are focusing, as they should, on true innovation and on creating sustainable long-term value.