What Makes Someone An Entrepreneur?

I read this piece on Forbes, it says what exactly I have been up to in the past few weeks, so I decided to share and include my thoughts in a Post Script.

Some 30 years ago, I began work on my first  book: Sweat Equitywhich profiled America’s best entrepreneurs.  I thought it would be fun to go back and revisit some of the lessons that my co-author, Geoffrey N. Smith, and I came up with, the ones that have stood the test of time. 

Here, in the next part of  what will be an occasional series, is a discussion of perhaps the most fundamental question about entrepreneurship. 

Variations on a theme are easier to create than the theme itself.  (That’s our fancy way of saying it is easy to improve an existing idea than to start one from scratch.)  But what makes an entrepreneur go out and create those variations?

It is no idle question.  There are literally tens of thousands of people who have ideas for what could be worthwhile companies, and yet they have done virtually nothing to develop what could very well be viable concepts.

What separates those that pull the trigger from those that don’t?

Consider these three entrepreneurs:

  • Bernard A. Goldhirsh started a sailing magazine because he thought the existing ones too snooty. “They were all filled with Somebody the Third meeting up with Somebody Else the Fourth at some fancy yacht club.” But in the process of starting Sail, Goldhirsh realized he knew nothing about starting or building a business. In talking to other fledgling entrepreneurs he learned they were in the same boat.
  • Arthur A. Jones always had a secret obsession. An eighth grade drop out, he worked as everything from an animal importer to television producer and even hosted the syndicated show Wild Cargo. But through it all he kept a secret.  Jones was fascinated with bodybuilding.  Through conventional weightlifting techniques he had created an impressive physique, “but I wasn’t satisfied.”
  • Perry Mendel was a successful real estate developer in the South whose kids were grown, so there was no reason for him to be overly interested in child care back in 1968. Yet almost every day there was another  story about women entering the workforce and how divorce was increasing and he got to wondering “who was taking care of the children.”

In each case, Goldhirsh, Jones and Mendel identified a need in the marketplace that resonanted with them. Goldhirsh wanted to find a way to help people like himself learn more about business. Jones was searching for a more efficient bodybuilding technique and Mendel was looking for a better form of child care.

What separates these three men from the people who spot a need and say “somebody should do something about it,” or “someday, maybe, I’ll do something about it,” is they take the first step toward seeing if they can fill the need themself.

Goldhirsh didn’t know how to create a magazine about small business. Heck, he didn’t know anything about business at all. Jones didn’t know how to create body building machines, when he started, and the only thing Mendel knew about childcare was what he learned (by trial and error) as a father.

And yet, they took a small step toward the goal, learned from taking that step and built that learning into their next step until they had filled the need they started.

Goldhirsh ended up creating Inc. one of the most successful magazine start ups in history;  Jones created the ubiquitous Nautilus machines found in gyms and Mendel founded Kindercare.

They only had two things in common. They spotted a need, and they did something about it.

Paul B. Brown is co-author of Just Start published by Harvard BusinessReview Press.


For a couple of years now, I have worked as a research analyst with a consulting firm in London. The rate at which we got clients that just needed help in setting up a business beat me.

Some came requiring services ranging from brand management, to market research consumer insight, to policy formation, some financial advice, while others accounting service; I noticed what quiet a few needed was actual guidance in starting a business. One thing was clear there wasn’t a shortage of idea. I have heard some of the most amazing business ideas in this my life time. But how couldn’t this people turn this great business idea into an actual business? Sometimes, even after our help, they struggle, leading us to lay the cards clear on the table for them, and we suggest a sale of the business instead of participating in the daily operation of the business.

In a nutshell what I’m saying is, people could be motivated by stories of successful entrepreneurs, and might come up with brilliant ideas, but the challenging bit is in turning this into an actual business, that is why just over a year ago we decided to offer a couple of services directed towards individuals (specifically in helping them to start-up), and also start-ups & small business in meeting with operational challenges called P&D Allianz.

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