Busted: three myths about being an entrepreneur blown wide open


There is a guy called Daniel Isenberg — I don’t really know him but he is a big deal and writes and talks a fair bit about entrepreneurship. He’s written a book that I feel touches on some interesting points about entrepreneurship. Brad Feld, co-founder of Techstars, likes it so there must be something to it.

The book, Worthless, Impossible and Stupid, is broken into four parts and in the next few weeks I will be publishing some insights from each part. The book takes the reader on a fascinating journey around the globe with some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs. Their successes are explained in conversation with Isenberg, each laced with key lessons for budding entrepreneurs.

This week we begin with part one, where Isenberg busts three key myths about who an entrepreneur is. I quite liked this part, mostly because it took me all of 30 minutes to read, but I found it relevant for Africa’s tech scene.

Myth One: Entrepreneurs must be innovators

These days, especially in the tech scene, it seems that innovation is the fountain from which all entrepreneurs must be blessed. It has become quite important to the industry and that is not a bad thing. However one has to wonder if the need to be innovative is hurting entrepreneurial endeavours that could be described as just plain business opportunities.

Well Isenberg is busting that myth wide open. He cites the example of one of the most successful cinema chains in Mexico, Cinemex, and quotes the chain’s co-founder Miguel Davila who says “the only innovation was to put chili and lime juice on the popcorn instead of butter”.

Cinemex’s tale here talks about how an idea (a good one), resourcefulness and determination helped realise the dream of building a cinema house that became a successful chain.

The author says that innovation is a wonderful thing because “it has an intrinsic aesthetic appeal, and it can frequently lead to extraordinary value creation and capture, this it, entrepreneurship — if an entrepreneur comes along and actually utilises the innovation.”

Myth busted. He argues that allowing entrepreneurs to believe that they must be innovators with a brilliant idea may leave them locked in a box and afraid of taking the risk of striking out on their own. So there you have it, you don’t have to be an innovator, but risking taking is a yes.

Myth Two: Entrepreneurs must be experts

This I must say, I am quite skeptical about. An entrepreneur should surely know and understand the industry they play in, right? Well yes and no says Isenberg. This myth is quite fascinating because the author admits that a fair number of people have started businesses with tremendous experience and that has helped their businesses become great successes.

On the flipside, he outlines a number of people who were fairly inexperienced in the beginning and went on to become experts of their industry. One such person is Ron Zwanziger, a recognised expert in blood glucose monitoring. When he started he knew nothing about genetic engineering.

Another is Clutch Group founder Abhi Shah who had no legal knowledge when he started his company. Now his company services 400 lawyers in the United States, India and United Kingdom. Clutch Group is a legal process outsourcing company with about US$25-million in revenue.

Myth busted. Though experience is nice to have, it is not a critical variable, surmises Isenberg. He argues that confidence, belief in a vision and being able to see the potential in something is just as good.

Myth Three: Entrepreneurs must be young

This really needs to be busted. The world of mavericks and bright-eyed entrepreneurs really shouldn’t just be for the 20-somethings and it is not. The example Isenberg uses here is quite fitting for our site, as he references “elderly” Japanese tech entrepreneur Atsumasa Tochisako. In 2006 Tochisako launched MFIC a proprietary software platform that handles billions of dollars of cash remittances around the world. The tech entrepreneur was in his fifties. His company makes around US$10-million in revenue and employs up to 70 people.

Myth busted. The sneaker-wearing and over-caffeinated 20-something is not the tech entrepreneur norm. Isenberg argues that “entrepreneurship is an equal opportunity employer,” and even Colonel Harland Sanders was in his sixties when started Kentucky Fried Chicken and the man behind McDonald’s success Ray Kroc was in his fifties — now that’s an interesting trend for the fast food world.

Image Credit: Adam Savage



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