To be or not to be an entrepreneur?

“Failure is a part of the entrepreneurial process. It’s how we learn what works, what the market is interested in, what is possible. In the US, we wear failure as a badge of honour”

— David Thorne

I AM always torn between encouraging a woman to venture into business or to stay in their career and make a success of things there.

This is because the romanticised notion of entrepreneurship and the reality of it are two very different things.

Anyone thinking of leaving an otherwise good career might want to consider the following points.

Note that I am focusing on opportunity-driven entrepreneurship which is very different from necessity-driven entrepreneurship as the latter has no choice but to go into business.

Who will buy it? — It’s every new entrepreneur’s dream that once they hit the market with that big idea, they will be overwhelmed with demand.

But reality seldom works that way.

Of course many do succeed but it’s often not to the magnitude portrayed in their optimistic cash flow projections.

In The Portable MBA in Entrepreneurship, American William Bygrave PhD says that a budding entrepreneur must be able to name prospective customers — saying one percent of the total market is not enough.

Who have they shown the product to, who has shown interest?

Without specifics, all that person has is an idea and not a market.

One good thing I found is that support can come from unexpected sources — the ones you thought would buy your goods or services show little interest and others you hadn’t even considered become loyal customers.

Your idea is not new — Bygrave also wrote that most entrepreneurs are obsessed with finding a unique idea and once they have found it they become super secretive and refuse to discuss it for fear it will be stolen.

He refuses to sign non-disclosure agreements because not only does he not have the time nor the inclination to steal the ideas but he claims to have seen it all.

One candidate brought him a revolutionary idea for a fluoride-impregnated dental floss which three months later he found in a chain of pharmacies on a trip to the UK.

His point is that the idea itself is not important but developing it, implementing it and building a successful business are the important things.

Resources — Sometimes when one is employed it’s easy to focus on the negatives and to underestimate the pool of resources that one has access to.

Let’s take for example a woman in an executive position.

In addition to a good salary, there is access to office space, a laptop, phone and other facilities which they don’t have to pay for.

Not to mention the travel opportunities, training and access to a network of people on whom to bounce off ideas.

All these factors have to be taken into account as it can take a number of years of hard work for a business to provide the same level of benefits.

Changing your mind — This is something that is not always encouraged — conventional thinking is that once you have made up your mind you must stick with it, especially where immense sacrifice is involved.

And yet big companies change their minds all the time, projects are put on hold, tenders are cancelled, meetings postponed and plans changed.

But for individuals there is a sense of failure attached to changing our minds.

I find it helpful to think of the Nedbank HSBC proposed merger of a year ago.

After a lot of money was spent on due diligence and travel by experts to different countries in the region and abroad, the whole thing was called off.

So a career woman can venture into business but if they find it doesn’t work for them, going back to work is a viable option.

As long as one has put in all their effort into something and are not just giving up for the sake of it, then they must be encouraged to move on.

In a nutshell, entrepreneurship involves a lot of hard and sacrifice and its best for a career woman to take the time to explore the real world of business before taking the plunge.

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