What universal tasks are common among founding entrepreneurs across time, culture and geography?
Founders are those who start the enterprise. This is important because this will help understand the tasks inherent to the founder. When these tasks are identified, it can be studied, learnt and shared to allow more entrepreneurs in the society.
An entrepreneur can be present from the beginning up to the end of the venture’s life cycle but I am only interested in the start up phase as this is based on the definition of the origin of the word entrepreneur, which is to undertake.
To know their universal tasks, I reviewed 4 founding entrepreneurs coming from different time, culture and geography. I did not randomly choose any entrepreneur, I chose them based on being different in time, culture and geography as well as based on the definition of 4 luminaries on economics and management, namely, Richard Cantillon who defined entrepreneur as someone who buys resources and sells for a higher price, thus denoting the current definition of a businessman. I still considered his definition to define the entrepreneur because the entrepreneur must also look into the profitability and sustainability of the company. Next is the definition of Jean Baptiste Say, which states, one who undertakes an enterprise, especially a contractor, acting as intermediary between capital and labor. The Joseph Schumpeter’s, as someone who destroys status quo and shifts resources out of an area of higher productivity and greater yield. Finally, Peter Drucker who defined entrepreneur as someone who seeks change, responds to it and exploits it as an opportunity.
Based on how entrepreneur was defined (seek change, create profit, shift resources and challenges status quo), I chose following to represent entrepreneurs:
Godric of Finchale
Life in medieval England was hard, if you are born poor, chances are you will live and die poor. A peasant or farmer will have to spend their lives as slave of their masters.
In 1066, the Normans, a tribe from France, conquered England. After the conquest, trade became vibrant in England.
A few years after the conquest, Godric was born. He was born into a poor family and chances are, we would live and die poor. But when he was a teenager, he decided not to be a farmer like his father and become a trader.
He got onto his bike and went from village to village to trade goods. Over time, he went onboard a ship to trade in different countries. His customers were rich people and nobles. He would bring items that are rare, such as house ware, in the country he will sell, making those items highly coveted.
*Locally, he would be considered Henry Sy or Mrs. Ramos of National Bookstore who started as retailers, also in the local context, an entrepreneur.
Steve Jobs & Steve Wozniack
Steve Jobs & Steve Wozniack are friends and members of the Homebrew computer club. It was Woz who has into computers and Jobs was the salesman. In one of the events, Woz showed that it is possible to create a personal computer. Woz was to share the blueprint of the computer to other members of the club but Steve Jobs convinced him that, instead of giving away the blueprint, they could sell the computer to retailers who will sell to those who want. This is how Apple 1 computer was born. The Apple was an innovation at the time because an ordinary picture tube TV can be used as the monitor of the computer. It also used less chips than what is available on the market.
Jack Ma learned English as a young kid. To practice his English, he would tour foreigners, and have penpals. He also would become an English teacher.
In 1995, we went to the US and there he first encountered the internet. He first searched for the word beer and found plenty of information about it. But when he searched China, he found few to none.
As soon as he got back to China, he started a company that would make websites for businesses. He called it China Pages. He wanted information about China to be found on the internet. China Pages would also be his stepping-stone for Alibaba.
Panasonic started 7 months before World War 1 ended. The founder was Konsuke Matsushita and only 3 staff helped him during the start up.
Matsushita was enthusiastic about developing new ideas so he had pen and notebook with him always. His company became famous for the creation of a bullet-shaped bicycle lamp.
During 1920’s in Japan, bicycle lamps were unreliable. Personally, he was frustrated with his own bicycle lamp, which frequently went out when he rode at night. Though there we battery operated lamps in the market, he made a better one.
He was able to create a battery-operated lamp that would last for 30-40 hours using 3 batteries.
It was not an instant success. Battery-powered lamps were yet to be accepted by the mass market because they had a bad image to customers, making them hard to sell to wholesalers. Instead, he went directly to retailers and left samples for testing. Since the lamps proved to be as promised, orders started coming in.
So what is common?
Sense opportunities from change and dissatisfaction (INSIGHT). Change and dissatisfaction create void in the market or self which are translated into problems and needs by the one who feels it. Someone who is entrepreneurial can visualize a potential opportunity from change in environmental forces or dissatisfaction to a condition. Godfric was dissatisfied about his condition on living and dying poor, so is Matsushita who was frustrated with poor lamps and Jack Ma who did not get information about China on the net. This dissatisfaction made them seek solution. On the other hand, Apple 1 computer came to life because Jobs saw a potential to fill the void in the market due to the availability of a better technology and a need from the members of the computer club. The change in technology and dissatisfaction of the current market made Jobs sense an opportunity, thus, he was able to connect the dots between problem and profit, just like the other founders. This first task of sensing opportunity is vital to the process of the entrepreneur, without the ability to sense opportunities, there will be no motivation to visualize what can be done.
Generate innovative solutions (IDEATE). Entrepreneurs are not satisfied with just filling the market with supply, instead they want to be different by providing innovative solutions. All the products sold or produced in the stories above were all innovative and new during their time, like the personal computer, webpages and bike lamp. However high technology is not necessary. Godfric, for example, sold items that were rare in the places he went to making them “new” to customers, but no new technology were applied in the items. What made the products innovative is that to the customers they were new in terms of how they are used, how they look, or how they function.
Create value-driven venture (INITIATE). All these products, before they came to fruition, were all innovative solutions in the form of ideas. The final task of the founder is to bring his idea to the reality. To create a value driven venture, the ideas must be transformed into an enterprise. At this stage, the founder must take risks, either using his own resources or resources of others. The goal of the enterprise is to be able to create value for, the customers in the form of products and processes, and to owners in the form or profit – continuously through innovation. The enterprise may also (highly recommended) create value to society or community as well, in whatever may help the society or community it is in.
These tasks above are what makes someone entrepreneurial and are present in all the entrepreneurs who were used as examples. It would be hard to accomplish the said tasks without the following traits:
- Creativity. Creativity not in aesthetics (though it helps) but in being able to come up with unique yet useful ideas. This creativity may also be applied in being resourceful while solving problems and coming up with innovative solutions.
- Risk-taking. Risks can be calculated or not calculated. Whatever it may be, the entrepreneur must be able to take some amount of risk. Risks come in on the part where the entrepreneur will be creating a value driven venture because the creation happens without a promise of return.
- Vision. Not the vision that foretells the future like that of the fortune teller, although close to that. But a vision that sees the possibilities in creative ideas.
These traits are just here to give guidance on qualities of the entrepreneur that allowed them to do their tasks.
Steve Jobs as an example to represent the others.
First, he was not an inventor or even tech savvy but he had an insight and idea, that is there is an opportunity to fill the market need by selling the Apple 1. He was able to initiate by selling the computer to retailers. He also captures the definition of the 4 economists mentioned above, he was able to make profit, challenge status quo, take advantage of the need and shift the resource to higher yield. This is also the same with Jack Ma who was not tech savvy but had an insight, idea and drive to initiate.
In all generations, and cultures, these are the 3 tasks that are inherent in the founding entrepreneur: Sensing change & dissatisfaction, Generating innovative solutions, and Creating value-driven venture. The traits such as creativity, vision and risk-taking completes their entrepreneurial spirit.