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Just What Do You Mean, Entrepreneur?

Soul of An Entrepreneur

WHEN WE THINK about entrepreneurship, we tend to fixate on people like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, and Phil Knight. And why not? There are very few budding entrepreneurs that would not want to duplicate their success.

So, we study what these people did to try and find the perfect checklist or formula that brings us the same kind of success. The only problem is this doesn’t reflect the real world of entrepreneurship.

David Sax, author of The Soul of an Entrepreneur, says that a startup myth has developed that has “increasingly defined what an entrepreneur was supposed to look like, how they behaved, and what they did. That myth “established that entrepreneurs were brilliant and young, mostly male and white, highly educated lone geniuses who frequently dropped out of college because they were so singularly focused on a brilliant innovation that would transform industry, and maybe even in the world, through economic disruption driven by blitzkrieg growth and fueled by venture capital.”

The problem is we have come to define entrepreneurship in terms of this startup model when, in fact, it represents a tiny fraction of what entrepreneurship really is. Many more are lifestyle businesses and self-funded. Furthermore, the highest success rates among entrepreneurs come from founders in middle age and beyond with the average age entrepreneur “behind the fastest-growing new companies (especially in the technology sector) was forty-five years old.”

We need to turn our attention to what an entrepreneur really is and why they do it. David Sax began a search for the soul of an entrepreneur. He asks, “Why do entrepreneurs do it? Why do they keep at it, even in the face of tremendous odds, and the daily personal sacrifices, and the imminent threat of financial failure? Why does the entrepreneur matter, why do different types of entrepreneurs matter, and what’s at stake if we lose sight of their value?”

These questions lead him around the world to seek out entrepreneurs from all kinds of backgrounds, cultures, and motivations to find the deeper meaning of entrepreneurship. We journey with Sax to a bakery in Toronto run by an immigrant family looking to get a fresh start.

For many immigrants, the need to secure some form of financial survival is the prime motivator of their move into entrepreneurship and is referred to as a push factor. Unlike the pull of an entrepreneur pursuing an attractive idea they simply cannot pass up (a romanticized core of the startup myth), a push to entrepreneurship is driven by necessity, often by a lack of better options, a problem that plagues immigrants.

We visit Tracy Obolsky in Rockaway Beach, New York, who begins her day with the rising sun surfing before she heads out to open her lifestyle business—a business designed to cover the expenses and lifestyle ambitions of the owner.

The lifestyle business captures the soul of the entrepreneur’s essential hope: To be your own boss. To use your talents as you see fit. To wake up each day and do what you decided to do. To reap what you sow, and build your life around that dream, however big or small it is.

We also meet Jesseca Dupart in New Orleans. She leveraged her African American beauty products brand Kaleidoscope, to strengthen her community and to help bring more women like her into entrepreneurship. She says, “You are responsible as a successful person to pay it forward … period! As an entrepreneur, I have to tell everybody you can do whatever you want.”

Then there are the social entrepreneurs where the donation is a marketing expense that drives growth.

This brand of socially conscious capitalism has become romanticized over the past twenty years or so, as a generation of individuals with strong values began to see entrepreneurship as the vehicle for achieving a desired change, in a way that married the dynamism of business with the broad developmental goals that had previously been the realm of governments and multinational organizations.

Sax writes, “what separates empty rhetoric from genuine values-led entrepreneurship is sacrifice.”

We journey to Argentina to see Iduna Weinert, the thirty-seven-year-old daughter of the founder of the Bodega y Cavas de Weinert winery. The family-owned business does not fit the startup myth where the immediate goal is an exit from the business. The family is often seen as an impediment to entrepreneurship. But in reality, families have always been a part of entrepreneurship. About two-thirds of the businesses owned around the world are owned and operated by families, and in America, “family firms constitute over half of the businesses in the country and half of those listed on stock markets.”

Sax notes that “entering a family business does not make a relation an entrepreneur” and few actually succeed into the second generation. But it does become something of a lifestyle. “Knowledge is cumulative and serves as the base for the next generation’s entrepreneurial ideas and the confidence to pursue them.”

Sax expands our view of not only what an entrepreneur is, but more importantly, what it means to be an entrepreneur. Sax talks to entrepreneurs that share their ups and downs, successes and failures. And failure is a very real part of owning a business. Uncertainty is a daily part of business. Only two-thirds of businesses survive their first year. The “essential ingredient that links all entrepreneurs together, wherever they are,” says Sax, is hope.

The hope that your idea has worth. The hope that it will sell. The hope that you have the ability to change your fortune … for yourself, your family, the community around you, and maybe even the world. That hope is the persistent faith we gather up in ourselves every single day, as we go out and try to make our ideas work. It underpins the personal risk that all entrepreneurs must accept and allows them to manage it, even when that risk threatens to overwhelm them.

The Soul of an Entrepreneur is an engaging look at entrepreneurship. He enriches it by peeling away the Silicon Valley Startup Myth and gives us an appreciation for the men and women that takes their ideas out into the world and try to make them work. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone, but if you are considering it, this book will give you insight into the very human side of striking out on your own.

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