Do You Think Like An Entrepreneur?
Do you have an entrepreneurial state of mind? Everything I read and hear in the world of startups conforms to a particular notion of entrepreneurship. It’s the notion of starting something new, preferably something never done before—like Facebook, perhaps. You are considered an “entrepreneur” if you come up with an idea to build a product or service offering never built before, incorporate an entity, hire a team, build a mobile app, and get people to start using something new. You cross the threshold between success and failure if you raise VC money, expand, and get acquired (it’s uncool to go IPO). You’re still an “entrepreneur” if your business fails. This is a wonderful model, and we are fortunate to live and work in an environment that celebrates this culture. However, is that all there is to the notion of entrepreneurship? I just returned from a trip to Southeast Asia where I discovered this kind of an ecosystem simply does not exist in many fast-growing nations—such as: Thailand, South Korea, or Vietnam. At best, it exists in a very limited way, sometimes under very tight controls and monitoring by officialdom or big business conglomerates. Yet, these countries are practicing their own brand of entrepreneurship within their structures by incubating new ideas and bringing out the entrepreneurial spirit among dedicated employees to develop new products that create new markets within these economies, and take on big global businesses. Large western corporations are not much different, either. They make bets on new products within the support structure of the mothership so that financial risks can be managed; employees don’t have to risk their careers and venture into uncharted territories across the world for new markets and profits. Consider these examples:
- Samsung’s line of Galaxy smartphones has been giving Apple a serious run for their money against the once unassailable iPhone. The Galaxy is as much an entrepreneurial success as the iPhone, yet we celebrate Apple as the entrepreneurial model, while we look at Samsung as just another big corporation.
- Many large corporations in the west—including the likes of GE, IBM, and P&G—routinely reinvent themselves and come up with great new products for their businesses (and suffer some painful and costly failures as well). IBM famously remade itself as a services company in the nineties under Lou Gerstner. More recently, Netflix effectively cannibalized its DVD mail-in rentals to invest aggressively in a streaming model.
- Russian oligarchs cornered the market in the privatization of the former Soviet Union’s state-owned enterprises in the nineties and became fabulously wealthy by acquiring controlling stakes in large natural resources companies (sometimes by questionable means). While this was unconventional, it nevertheless was a great example of seizing opportunities and demonstrates great entrepreneurial zeal.