In her Interview earlier this month, Florence startled me with such honesty, saying, “The life as an entrepreneur is challenging...I ask myself if I have the personality to be an entrepreneur.”
Today we take a look at what makes an entrepreneur after all. Is it one definition for the Jeff Bezos or Elon Musks of the world and something else for the Chanels and Von Furstenbergs? In the past I got overwhelmed, or perhaps frustrated is a better word, with the pressure our society puts on founders of startup companies, what Vogue imagines as the "best in emerging designers today". Its no wonder with my home town of San Francisco and Silicon Valley being the epicenters of entrepreneurship, home to 13.5% of all global startup deals. Everyone who says "I have a startup" artistic or not, is held to the Bezo-Musk standard: the assumption you have funding, you have a team, clients "in waiting", ...that you aren't shy to post your work online. How can us solopreneurs live up to this huge standard? How can us independent creatives compare ourselves to this "let's rent space and get a team up and running right away" standard?
Generally during "How to See" interviews I loosely guide the guest by asking one or two general questions around the word “start” but then allow them the freedom to weave the story. I am grateful to Florence for sharing such a personal account of her challenges and learnings from her first launch. Here is my personal take from subjects that arose during our two discussions.
What's Your Definition of an Entrepreneur?
We can describe an entrepreneur as having a certain mindset and yes a type of personality. So what kind of mindset? Sure, it’s about passion, solving problems creatively, having that unrelenting, driving attitude. There is always a poster child for this definition right? I always think of a tech giant - someone fierce, money driven, takes risks, hungry.
But this doesn’t have to be the case- we can create or re-create our own definition and poster child.
Who do you think of? Elon Musk or Zaha Hadid? Or Bill Gates or Gordon Parks?
Maybe it’s time to think of it slightly differently than what we have generally envisioned in the past.
Do you remember in Part 1, Florence said she was grappling with how to be an entrepreneur? She said that she takes more time than others in making decisions; relishes tasks involving research and sourcing; feels she doesn’t take enough risks.
That sounds like challenges for everyone, not just entrepreneurs so what is "being an entrepreneur really mean?"
By definition, an entrepreneur is a person who creates a new business or innovator of new ideas, goods and services. We are probably all entrepreneurs if we have a business. Even as a freelancer or contractor, if we declare taxes as a solo entity then yes, we are an entrepreneur...right?
John Rampton of Entrepreneur.com says the differences between solopreneurs and entrepreneurs can be subtle. An entrepreneur works hard to build their business but they aren’t quite as attached to the concept as a solopreneur. A solopreneur tends to spend hours working hard to build their business whereas an entrepreneur frequently prefers to be out making connections and getting the word out about their business. An entrepreneur may be perfectly happy doing that and that alone, leaving their team behind to do the work.
Solopreneurs can be great networkers but one major difference is that an entrepreneur may be more comfortable spending all day at a variety of networking opportunities and client meetings, while a solopreneur is content simply doing the work. When someone is an entrepreneur at heart, even as a solopreneur, they're waiting for the day when they can build their team and will use freelance workers and virtual assistants to delegate their work in the meantime. They are comfortable leading a team of people toward a defined goal.
Solopreneurs, on the other hand are in no rush to hire an employee to manage. Even if the day comes when they must outsource work or bring in a team member, a solopreneur may find himself pitching in and doing the vast majority of the work himself. They may even have a hard time letting go of tasks, since he simply wants to jump in and work hard to grow his business. While entrepreneurs can work harder than anyone they know, a solopreneur is a worker by his very nature and work can become overwhelming. Entrepreneurs do the delegating.
The mindset of a solopreneur and entrepreneur are subtly different and noting those differences can help professionals determine the long-term direction they’ll take with their businesses.
My definition of ANY-preneur is someone who creates a vision and has a willingness to take steps at every moment to get to that vision. Pretty short right?
After that, I firmly believe that the vision will guide your steps. The vision should “pull” one to be motivated...passionate...driven. If it doesn’t, maybe the vision needs to be altered or changed. Maybe it's not clear enough, defined enough. If we don’t have motivation for a project, we can’t make ourselves have those qualities of how we are defining entrepreneurship? Focus on the vision first and if needed, alter the project a bit so its strong and comprehensive enough to create that motivation.
Did you happen to notice how I didn’t list the word "motivation" as my own characteristic of being an entrepreneur? I didn’t want my definition to feel overwhelming nor stress me out. In the rough trenches of Business School I tried to meet those "Bezo-Musk" “expectations”, trying to emulate who and what I thought entrepreneurs were like.
Instead, I will change my poster child to be Olafur Eliasson for example. He is an entrepreneur in the greatest sense because he meets my own definition of one - a visionary. He is known for his sculptures and large scale art installations, pulled by his vision to do projects to challenge visitors' perception of reality.
Does it mean that John Rampton's definition above doesn't matter? Oh no, he is right on and we should note the differences but also how our personality comes into play.
As an entrepreneur shouldn't we be risk-averse? Always quick on the move? Loud or Chatty? Not necessarily. Sometimes ones personality happens to match that of the stereotypical entrepreneurs from shows like “the Apprentice.” There are some people who see more progress quicker because they are natural “go-getters”, aggressive in business or other financial dealings. But not every successful entrepreneur has these qualities. Some are shy or 'slow burners', like filmmaker Tim Burton. He is more on the timid side, sensitive, intense and serious, taking time for projects and even known as a healer. But this doesn’t mean that he isn’t ever-striving, heading for the top, ambitious and determined.
Our sustainable designer, Florence, is taking it slow. She is organized and may ‘need a push every so often’ as she says, but she is clearly determined. For me, she already has everything it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. If we are slow and take time to make decisions, for example, then it’s simply a moment to take the time to make decisions. It’s ok to be who we are. Let's be intentional about who or in what personality we envision a successful entrepreneur and make strides to achieve that version.
Being conservative, for example, instead of a risk-taker depends on the decision and is clearly personality driven, each type of person having the possibility of reaching their goals.
Florence also talked about being exhausted and overwhelmed as a solopreneur. I can certainly relate. Having a strong vision will act as an internal force to get us over the “humps.” Creating the vision is more than just defining what you want to do, your story, your purpose and an example of who you want to emulate but what success looks like for you and your personality. Let's give ourselves rules or criteria of how we want to live and succeed during our entrepreneurial journey. Then we can create a personal handbook to live by, defining the entirety of ourselves and who we want to be, to pep ourselves up in those times of hardship. I talk a little about this personal handbook in my March podcast newsletter. And guess what? If the word entrepreneur doesn't sit well with you, invent your own word!
What’s your “new” definition of an entrepreneur? Who do you think of when we say “entrepreneur”? Who will you change your poster child to be?
Now that you've created your own definition to live by, what kind of marketing approach corresponds? - “Entrepreneurial” or “Designer/Artistinal”?
This is a different sort of topic of discussion and one for our next blog post. It’s something to ponder and question the foundations of our natural tendencies, what we’ve learned in the industry, what title we’ve given ourselves or/and choices we’ve made as creative business owners.
In marketing clothing, art or products for example, entrepreneurs stereotypically use a pull approach and artists/designers stereotypically use the push approach. What’s the difference? Read Further In Part 4 coming soon.