The world belongs to those who dare
'Trust your common sense'
Every healthy society needs some people who think out of the box. People who bring in fresh, creative and innovative ideas. People who generate added value, make the world a better place for us all and dare to persevere when not everyone can see the point of it straight away.
This idea is captured perfectly in an Apple commercial from a few years ago. Think different, it was called. You can easily find it on YouTube. The ad is a eulogy to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels and the trouble-makers. It shows images of people who are forever etched in the collective memory of our society and have changed it forever. Einstein, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Ghandi, for example, are on this roll of honour. But there are also a few entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson and Ted Turner. It still gives me goose bumps.
You don’t actually need to look that far. In our country, too, a number of young entrepreneurs are coming to the fore. In the technology sector alone you’ll find quite a few newcomers with international ambitions and innovative projects such as Felix Van de Maele (Collibra), Grégoire de Streel and Jean Zurstrassen (Tunz) or Fabien Pinckaers (Open ERP). Perhaps those names don’t mean much to you, but not for much longer.
"The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do," the Apple spot concludes. For me that’s the essence of entrepreneurship: the world belongs to those who dare.
Necessity knows no law
Why do people become entrepreneurs? If you ask me, the answer is very simple: 20 percent of entrepreneurs do it because they are passionate and have masses of talent, while 80 percent become entrepreneurs out of sheer necessity.
That possibly explains why many campaigns aimed at promoting entrepreneurship don’t achieve much in the end. You can’t learn entrepreneurship. Running a business is an attitude. It’s the combination of a number of qualities. Creativity and a sense of adventure, for example. But how, then, do you get people to see that it really is worthwhile to trade the security of a salaried job for the risks of entrepreneurship? I don’t think you do. You need a totally different inducement: necessity knows no law.
Human beings are naturally endowed with a strong survival instinct. Yet today we don’t use it at all. Most people have simply delegated all responsibility for their own survival to the state or to their employer. I am convinced that sheer necessity could force people to suddenly become a lot more creative. You don’t need a course to learn that, you just need a healthy dose of survival instinct.
But anyway, if you are reading this you’ve probably passed this stage already. And whether you are bursting with talent or belong to the category of entrepreneurs who don’t have other options: congratulations! And welcome. From now on you belong to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels and the trouble-makers. In my modest opinion these are badges of honour which you should wear with pride. And to this I add some free advice.
Trust your common sense
Those who enter the world of business quickly learn that being successful requires more than just a good idea. On the contrary: some entrepreneurs are even successful with a bad idea. New entrepreneurs face a whole range of challenges: sourcing capital, struggling through the administrative red tape, kick-starting production, getting staff matters organised… Soon you can’t see the wood for the trees, even though you haven’t got started yet. Good advice is invaluable in this situation. But do choose your advisors carefully.
Professors and economists, for example, can bombard you with numbers and statistics like anything. They mostly give expert advice, but from a theoretical perspective on entrepreneurship. While everyone knows that practice makes perfect, not so?
It therefore intrigues me that in these challenging economic times just about everybody talks about entrepreneurship, except the entrepreneurs themselves. Who else knows what goes on from day to day? True, they can’t always flash impressive diplomas and hardly publish. But they know the tricks of the trade better than anyone else. Beginners who are occasionally prepared to listen to the old hands may land themselves a free MBA at the end of the day.
A good advisory board, whether you establish it formally or not, has members with knowledge of theory and practice. The perfect sounding board. But it can’t be much more than that: entrepreneurs must depend on themselves in the first instance. That is the price you pay for all the freedom which entrepreneurship brings.
But it’s not a problem. We are loners by nature. Pleasantly imbalanced to the point of forgoing all the advantages of our welfare state and following our own dreams with conviction. If you have the guts to take that risk, why shouldn’t you trust your own common sense? Nobody can assess the situation better than you. Good advice is welcome when it comes to difficult decisions, but in the end you have to take the plunge yourself. And it’s a good thing, because you yourself have to bear the consequences, for better or worse.
Learn from the mistakes of others
There’s no such thing as a free meal. If you want to exploit an idea to the full, it will often cost you quite a bit. Many entrepreneurs starting out don’t see their way clear to slowly building up the necessary capital or putting their personal assets at risk. They rather depend on third parties to ease the pain. But that, too, comes at a price: from then on they no longer take their decisions independently...
A good piece of advice: don’t raise capital unless you really need it. Is there no other option? Then raise enough the first time and avoid a second round. But be sure to weigh up the pros and cons carefully. And believe me: investment financing is not the way to go if you want your business to be taken seriously, nor if you want to score in your circle of business acquaintances. There are plenty of stories of entrepreneurs who, the moment an investor got involved, found themselves stuck with a board of directors that mostly stood in their way. And worst of all: it meant the end of their passion for entrepreneurship.
Of course you are eager to grow. That’s good. He who goes into business to maintain the status quo could rather leave it at that. Stagnation means going backward, not so? But don’t forget that you sometimes make more by staying small. The world is flat. Small, or better still lean and mean, is the new big deal. In a globalised world you have competitors everywhere. The most versatile businesses will call the tune in future. Regional parochialism will hardly play a role in this.
And don’t be afraid to make mistakes
Growing means learning that only one in ten projects actually succeeds. But growing also means understanding that you needed those nine other projects to get to the successful one. So don’t go in search of the Holy Grail.
If you are really serious about growth, you’ll actually be an entrepreneur day and night. You’ll realise then that a chance encounter at the bakery round the corner could be your biggest deal. Everyone knows everyone, especially in our networked society.
But you must also accept that you cannot expect such engagement from your employees. Although they are involved, they do not share your destiny. The same applies to the managers in your business. Managers and entrepreneurs have comparable responsibilities, but they don’t run the same risks. If managers did want to take real risks, they would be our competitors. Knowing this, surround yourself with the best possible people and out of consideration for the better employees take timeous leave of the small fry.
And finally: do you know the Banker’s Mantra? It goes as follows: turnover is vanity, profit is sanity but cash is reality. Your turnover, the size of your profit margin or regardless of the parameter you use to show your success: it doesn’t make the slightest difference. All that counts at the end of the day is how much money you have in the bank. The bottom line. So make sure that you break even as soon as possible.
I wish you lots of success and give me a shout if I can help!
About Inge Geerdens
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About The Fifth Conference
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