Book excerpt: “Entrepreneurship is a noble art”

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Editor’s Note: Rick Wilson is the longtime CEO of Miva, the pioneering e-commerce platform. Wilson joined the company in 1999 as Director of Sales. In 2009, he and a group of investors acquired it. His new book, “Dragonproof Principles: Principled Leadership For The Modern Entrepreneur”, is now available. The following is “Principle two: Entrepreneurship is a noble art”, an excerpt.

I want to dig into the spirit of being an entrepreneur. The noble spirit.

It is important to define the difference between an entrepreneur and a businessman because it looks the same but it is not. An entrepreneur is someone who has a vision for an idea or a product. Steve Jobs and Elon Musk are frequently mentioned in this light. The ultimate entrepreneurs.

Elon wanted to change the world around clean energy, especially through electric and solar cars, and he found an existing business that he took over to do so. Steve Jobs predicted the personal computer revolution, sitting at the intersection of liberal arts and technology. For quintessentially successful entrepreneurs, insight and ambition are driven by passion… great passion. They set out to change the world quite explicitly.

Dragon-proof Principles: Principled Leadership for the Modern Entrepreneur

An entrepreneur can also be someone who just wants to be in control of their day to day life, or who sees life as an artist, and is passionate about art. They create from this point of view up to the point of constraint. You hear actors or musicians talking about it all the time. They are asked, “How did you manage to be so successful?” And they tell you they just had no other choice. They work from a vocation that they don’t even necessarily understand.

Compare that to a “businessman” – someone who has probably studied, maybe an MBA or a business degree, or grew up in the family business. A businessman is someone who has studied the science and art of running a business and has applied this training to his project. As a trope, we tend to view businessmen as more pragmatic than passionate, as intentionally forging businesses, rather than serving as a mysterious mover in the soul.

You can be an entrepreneur and a businessman at the same time, but not all entrepreneurs are businessmen, and not all businessmen are entrepreneurs. Really the question you need to ask yourself is, do you have the courage to be an entrepreneur? Are you personally ready to take full control of a business and support this baby at every stage of their development? A business isn’t a human being or a life, but it always lives and breathes and takes your time, your mind, and your passion, and you’ll have as many knots in your stomach about it as almost anything else. So you wanna do this?

Is it something that when I ask the question, you immediately say, “YES, this is what turns my wheel.” This is what I want to do! Or, does the thought of entrepreneurial life make you cringe? Because if it makes you cringe, you’re probably not an entrepreneur. The ideal attitude for an entrepreneur is someone who hears what I just said and thinks, “Wow, it’s me. I have to do it.

I can speak about this moment for myself. I didn’t have to be the founder of the business from scratch. I was certainly happy to take someone else’s business and grow it. I just had to be an entrepreneur. I had no choice. I had to be the person building something, whether I was starting from an existing building block or starting it from scratch. In fact, I often tell people that I don’t think I was such a good employee because all I ever thought about was how I would do it if I was running the company.

I often see a type of person who thinks they are an entrepreneur, which they are not. This person often confuses the idea that he has for the thing of value. If you ask someone like that about their business, they say, “Oh, I can’t tell you about it, because I don’t want somebody to steal it.” They have this perception that an idea is valuable, and all you need is a good idea. I do not agree.

We are saturated with media scenarios about “big idea” projects that made their inventors fortunate. It’s practically a modern historical myth. How many people have tried to start a business because someone said, “Hey, did you hear about the guy who invented fart rock and made a million bucks?” It’s a true story, but it unfortunately misses the point of how a real entrepreneur makes money. Yes, you need an idea. It could be your idea or someone else’s, but once you have an idea, it’s all about execution. It’s about understanding why people in the market want to buy the thing, it’s about how you serve your customers, and more importantly, it’s about your desire to order that ship. The idea ends up being secondary to all of these things!

It’s all about execution

I have a friend who went to Harvard Business School. An incredibly bright guy. I don’t know if I would call him an entrepreneur, but he’s definitely an interesting alternative thinker. He wrote his MBA thesis at Harvard in 1992 on a future digital medium for music distribution and the ability to hold an entire catalog of music in your pocket. Now, if this sounds familiar to you, it’s because this exact concept has become iPod and iTunes. However, my friend was not the inventor of the iPod or iTunes. It had nothing to do with their development. He never worked for Apple. He never met Steve Jobs. His idea never went beyond this piece of paper. Was it a good idea? Absoutely. It’s one of those times where history can tell you, yeah, it was a big, life-changing idea, but that idea didn’t make him rich, or make him a contractor. He left it in drafts.

It’s the difference between someone who is a true entrepreneur and someone who is “only” brilliant. An entrepreneur is going to take an idea and they are going to be like a bulldog and fight and fight and fight. Thanks to this, this idea will become reality. Every successful entrepreneur I know has fought through these valleys and climbed these peaks to finally get there. If you don’t have the courage to be an entrepreneur, the result is very simple and very predictable.

You will stop before going very far.

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