The Entrepreneurial Adventure
It takes longer than we realize, and the journey is an arduous one. But, one day we wake up, and we’ve achieved a kind of independence never known or perhaps understood by the employee, no matter how high he or she may travel in the hushed corridors of executive country.
All business activity in the United States and its territories began as entrepreneurial adventures. Trace any corporation back to its beginnings, or the beginnings of its parent corporation, or the beginning of its parent’s corporation, as is sometimes the case, and you’ll find it began as an idea that would fill or help fill a need or desire on the part of human beings who would become customers.
We look today at a complex multinational organization like IBM and forget that the company began in the mind of a single human being. Anyone who starts or causes to be started a business venture, is an entrepreneur.
The entrepreneurial adventure is endlessly attractive to those endowed with entrepreneurial spirits, adventurers, in varying degrees, whose visions of the future tend to be hopeful and enthusiastic, rather than defeatist. The entrepreneur is the person who says, “I think it’ll be a big success.” The non-entrepreneur says, “You’re going to lose your shirt.”
A survey taken many years ago of the most successful people in a large American city turned up the fact that most of their ultimate success depended in large measure on the jobs they had lost; whether they had resigned or had been fired wasn’t all that important. And under questioning, those very successful people thought about that interesting fact for perhaps the first time and shuddered to think of what their present lives might have been like had they clung to one of those early jobs which, at the time, seemed so important to them and their families.
Now they’re not all entrepreneurs, of course, but they were people with faith in themselves and their ideas, which is the mark of success, wherever it’s found. During those important steps in their careers, they were no doubt warned by well-meaning relatives and friends to hang on to that job they had held, and lectured on the dark and dismal pitfalls of venturing off on something as ephemeral and evanescent as an idea. But of course, good ideas are not as ephemeral or evanescent as their status in thought might indicate to the more fearful. They’re the most important things on the planet earth, and it’s producing ideas that raises the human being to his or her highest levels of achievement.
Ideas solve problems and make our lives infinitely more interesting and rewarding, less dangerous, better fed, better employed, richer in countless ways, and wonderfully more comfortable. Without ideas, we’d still be sitting in the trees grooming one another. All the creatures on the planet have life-saving techniques. Some are fleet of foot, others sharp of claw and fang. There are fish in the deep, dark trenches of the ocean that dangle tiny lanterns above their waiting jaws. But for the human being, there is the brain, the idea producer, to save his or her skin in a myriad of ways. And the United States, the first nation in history with the word happiness in its official chartering papers, offers a number of options to those desiring to share in the good life. One of those options is the right to go into business with little more than an idea and the determination to succeed.
The idea that results and a person running the risks of starting his or her own business depend strictly upon the person – regardless of background, education, previous level of accomplishment, and aspirations. For most of us, going into business is a pursuit beset by many problems, irritations, headaches, sleepless nights, long hours, and low pay. Ah, yes, being in business for one’s self does not necessarily mean an inordinately high income. On the contrary, it often means very little or no income at all for long periods of time. But once the business hits, whether it takes five years or 15, you’ve got the world by the nether parts. You decide what you’re worth in the salary and bonus departments. And the company can pay for much that would ordinarily come out of an employee’s pay.
America’s top executives working for large multinational corporations usually earn more in salary and perks, stock options, and bonuses than the great majority of entrepreneurs. But the entrepreneur has something else. He has control. And once the business is truly successful, which means it’s probably in a state of happy expansion, he or she can hire the best executives to run things while he or she takes a few months’ rest in Hawaii or Greece or plays golf in Nairobi and does a bit of deep-sea fishing in the Seychelles.
You say it might take 15 years for that kind of success? Yes, I do. But how long would it take you if you worked for IBM or Chrysler, 15 or 20 years I suppose, if ever, right? And the 15 years aren’t all pain and suffering and sleepless nights. There’s a lot of joy in there, too. There’s the joy of seeing your own ideas in action and of watching your own ideas and efforts win against the competition. There’s the joy of watching the money pour in along with the orders. There’s a, sort of, kind vindication in that.
When I resigned from CBS, my friends told me repeatedly what an idiot I was. I had reached the top. I went to work in the beautifully paneled brass-trimmed elevators of the world-famous Wrigley Building in Chicago. I rubbed shoulders with the rich and famous, and I earned top dollar in my profession. Man, I was on top of the heap. I had it made, and I was only 28 years old. But I dreamed to be an entrepreneur – in total control of my destiny – and as my friends learned, it does little good to remonstrate with an entrepreneur.
Christopher Columbus, brilliant navigator that he was, could have spent his life in peace navigating up and down the coastal waters of Europe and remaining within the known boundaries of the period’s world’s maps. But at the edges of the known waters there appeared the terrifying legend: “Here there be dragons.” And it was there that Columbus desired to sail. And it’s there that every entrepreneur desires to sail.
It’s interesting to note that on the maps beyond the known world, there was never a legend reading, “Here there be unlimited opportunity for exploration, no doubt much gold and silver and precious gems, and strange creatures living beyond these boundaries waiting for discoveries and development for the daring and intrepid sailor.” Even though it had always been that way before, no one ever suggested that it might also be that way in still undiscovered areas. It’s the natural proclivity of cartographers and advice givers to look upon the unknown as bad. For they, like children going into a darkened basement alone, feel that the dark and the unknown must hold strange and fearful creatures unimaginable in the known and lighted world.
They cannot think otherwise. It’s their nature. Yet, at the time of Columbus, not a single live dragon had ever been seen upon the planet earth by anyone. Dragons were, in fact, fairytale creatures, yet they always inhabited the uncharted regions of the world. It said so right on the maps.
So when you get an idea that you think will result in an excellent business of your own – and it needn’t be a new idea by any means – keep it to yourself and your secret notepad for a period of time while you simmer it on the rotisserie of your mind’s consciousness and unconsciousness. Let it turn while you view it from every angle. Look at it from the standpoint of the worst possible scenario. If it’s a good, sound idea, it should survive even the worst times, as good businesses do.
It usually takes longer than we realize when we begin. At the decision to become an entrepreneur, we seldom take into consideration the length and arduous nature of the contract. But if our idea is sound, and if we are sound, and if we fully understand the concept of service and the importance of working capital and constant upgrading of our product or service, and if we have the perseverance of Columbus, we’ll wake up some fine morning to find ourselves one of the competent ones of our generation. We’ve achieved a kind of independence never known or perhaps understood by the employee, no matter how high he or she may travel in the hushed corridors of executive country.