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The Essentials of Entrepreneurship

I recently attended a board meeting and was asked to share some thoughts on entrepreneurship.  As I did, it dawned on me that these insights, gleaned from 35 years of experiences and observations, might be of some value, and thus have decided to publish them here.

There are several traits that I suppose one would identify as being typical, if not essential, for successful entrepreneurship. You will note that numerous of these are related, if not overlapping.  These include:

- Filling Voids – Successful entrepreneurs focus on meeting an unmet need, or, as was the case with Steve Jobs, even realizing that a need exists when it is not apparent to others including those whose need it will turn out to be;
- Grit – the ability to get up off the floor after being knocked down hard and repeatedly by rejection;
- Contrarian Nature – One must be comfortable pursuing an agenda that the consensus has rejected as being unworthy or impossible;
- Communication/Sales Skills – No person can achieve much alone, so the entrepreneur must explain the mission and reasoning in a clear and convincing manner to attract the necessary support to achieve any objective;
- Integrity and Fair-Mindedness – Again, these are requirements to attracting the best partners to join on a mission;
- Vision – The entrepreneur must see something that others do not;
- Courage and Confidence – It is lonely pursuing a vision that 99% of the world disagrees with, and oftentimes is hostile towards;
- Humility – The vision one has will rarely be correct from the outset. A successful entrepreneur must be an even better listener than speaker, and will quickly adapt the game plan, incorporating both feedback from others as well as lessons learned from trial and error. The winning entrepreneur will make mistakes, but will abandon losing strategies quickly and re-position;
- Comfort with the Concept of Insecurity – An entrepreneur knows that the world is fundamentally uncertain and shuns the illusions of security that necessarily quell any possibility of achieving greatness.
- Action – An entrepreneur understands the value of action over inaction, being comfortable that mistakes are lessons to be learned and correct course from.

As you consider how to be an entrepreneur, don’t worry that you don’t work for yourself, or that you work in a very mature industry. There is room for tremendous entrepreneurial success even inside of the largest organizations, and in the most established and entrenched industries. When I was in my young 30’s I had the good fortune to make considerable change to one such industry – real estate finance. In fact, it is often those most mature industries, where conventional wisdom is most deeply entrenched but institutionalized inefficiencies are also pervasive, that are most in need of the entrepreneurial spirit.  In those situations, it often falls to industry outsiders to be courageous enough, or dumb enough, to think they can overcome decades of industry standard practice to innovate/improve.

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