Graduates are slowly realising that traditional employment is not the only show in town. The entrepreneurial route has many advantages. But before turning down a steady job or packing away the interview suit, recent graduates need to evaluate if they truly have what it takes to start a business.
What does it take to become a founder?
The one thing successful founders have one thing in common is passion for their chosen product or service. This cannot be taught. The truth is that starting a company requires a vision, grit, an enormous amount of stamina, energy and a work-ethic many can only dream of. Now imagine putting all that work in to a product you weren’t passionate about?
Entrepreneurs enjoy their freedom and the flexible hours that working on their own project offers. They are not afraid to constantly innovate and are happiest when no two working days are the same. They have the capacity to learn a great deal in a short space of time. They need to display a high degree of emotional intelligence as even the greatest idea is going to sink if you can’t empathize with your clients and employees. They are doers, makers and turn things around quickly. They don’t get bogged down in the theory and avoid the pitfalls of perfectionism.
Contrary to popular opinion founders should talk to as many people as possible about their idea. In the United States this is part of the entrepreneurial spirit, drawing other people directly into a conversation and telling them – in a nutshell – about one’s own business idea. This is not the rule in Germany. In our land of inventors and engineers, which is still the world leader in patent applications, founders are often afraid someone will steal their idea. New founders need to note digital success stories in the USA and the crucial role of its cooperative spirit.
Is it all about the money?
Many graduates want to start a business only to achieve a successful exit. This is absolutely fine and an important motor for entrepreneurship. Founders get rich, investors get returns. All this builds know-how, visibility and encourages more founders and more investors to join the game.
However founding a company without venture capital is also worthwhile. When you’re not constantly chasing investors, you are free to focus on growing your brand and attracting new customers. And your dream of making a difference may take longer than the 3 to 5 years investors are willing to wait before an exit. You are very much the master of your own destiny, even if that destiny takes a little longer to grow.
Can the regular employee adopt these skills?
Outside of the start-up, the general world of work is changing. People who have made a 40-year career in one company will probably be a rare commodity in 10 years time. It is more likely that more people than before will have to be ready and flexible at all times, change places and occupations, undergo regular further training and be able to act highly independently. The regular employee will need to adopt entrepreneurial skills to remain relevant.
One of the main skills is asking why, something entrepreneurs are constantly doing and encouraging their staff to do. Question established practice and if something goes wrong adopt a “5 whys” approach to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Particularly if they work in a large organisation, the employee should take a leaf from the entrepreneur’s book and learn to build networks. Networks are key to building a career in a large organisation, standing out from the crowd and having a cheerleader in every department. Learn from the entrepreneur, take some time out from your day job as a career break and do something different. Make sure it is relevant, worthwhile and learn something useful from it.
Companies can build a culture which promotes these characteristics in their employees. Give your employees freedom by not getting involved in their daily business. Let them keep their own hours but hold them to account for their results. Reward innovation and new ideas but don’t punish first-time mistakes, rather see them as a learning opportunity. Encourage informal networking and learning about what is happening in the entire organisation through lunch dates and bar camps.
If you have ever met one, entrepreneurs are an interesting breed. They are entirely focused with one thing only on their mind – the business they are building. The good news is, many skills which make a successful entrepreneur are learnable and are valuable even if you are work in traditional employment. But if you have passion and think you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur, nothing should hold you back!