Entrepreneurialism – from a cultural point of view

I sent along my post in response to Friedman’s article to a close friend who works for the world’s largest NGO. He’s an economist and has been trying to instill the spirit and practice of entrepreneurialism both within his organization and in developing countries around the world. This is his response;

“What is interesting is the cultural attitude towards failure and how, apart from some parts of American society, it is somewhat to extremely negative everywhere else.

Its not surprising as in some places entrepreneurial bankruptcy can mean jumping off a bridge and having your family locked into slave labour for a generation or two. In other places you just loose your reputation and people avoid doing business with you. Here in la Suisse, declaring bankruptcy means no bank will touch you or extend short term finance.

This is not surprising and it turns out most biz gets seed funding from the 3 Fs: family, friends and fools.

At work I have been trying for years to get people to accept a try-fail-rinse-repeat approach. Even though there is is no financial risk to bear and you almost can’t get fired, people refuse to be involved in stuff that cannot be declared at least an important – if not huge – success in advance: reputation matters. Fake success is better than real success if it means risking failing even a little bit.

I think these cultural perceptions are so deeply ingrained that there is no fixing or changing.”

Discouraging to say the least so I quickly wrote this response to his email;

Okay. I’m going to let you in on a little secret that’s going to help your entrepreneurial kids. Yes, failure can suck, no two ways about it but there is a work around that will help you learn more about your target audience before you or your investors have to dole out loads of cash. It’s called MVP, or minimally viable product. Teach your kids that and they will have a leg up.

What is MVP you might ask? It is the absolute reduction of whatever product or service you are offering that will express your business idea the most succinctly and is targeted and developed for maximum learning. So, imagine that I am developing a mobile app and I want to test my idea before committing to the expense of hiring someone to either design or code the thing. Both of which take time, effort and…money (and reputation). Sketch out your idea in all its facets. And then go back through it and reduce it to its core elements that will most clearly express your business model. Let’s say it is a movie app where you want to be able to buy tickets to just the French movies playing in your neighborhood. Sketch it out. In all it’s gloriousness. And then reduce it so that just a few features express your idea the most clearly. Could it be that there is a simile of the ticket in the app that is in French? Could it be that the app talks to you in French once you’ve bought the ticket? Keep going. And then once you’ve decided on what your MVP will do sketch it out again. And, here’s the kicker, take that sketched idea and go outside and start talking with people. You don’t need to talk to a lot. Five or less. Ten if you want to go crazy. Take their feedback and then iterate. Do it again and again until you’ve honed your MVP down to the point where you feel confident that everyone you show it to “gets it” and, hopefully, loves it. If they don’t love it, try something else.

I did this last year with the app I designed and built. It is a radically different way to think – and do.

The mode of entrepreneurialism you speak of is old skool. Too much commitment to finding the dollars in your model. And you are right, all that you speak of in that mode are typical of that path. Especially the failure part. If you manage to go out and find funding for what you are doing – old skool style – and you fail, it is very likely that you won’t get funding again. Failure, in this case, is usually based on a few simple facts. 1. Your business model sucked. 2. You didn’t test it with your target audience. 3. And you probably got funded too fast which got you complacent and you sat on your ass raking it in, or so you thought, when you should have been plotting out your product lifecycle.

So that’s it. The VC money in the US is now following those who fail, and those who learn from their failure and get back up and do it again. And again. Grit, persistence and drive. When you pitch VCs they buy you first and your idea second. If they can see that you have that drive, grit and persistence they’ll back you. But if you are in any way fearful or unsure of your idea or unwilling to learn or pivot they’ll sniff that out from a hundred yards and pass. VCs are very very good with the sniff.

Read Steve Blank. Sit down with your kids and watch his videos. Buy his book. And get cracking. Life is short. And the world is crazy full of opportunities. Looking for a job sucks. And working for the man sucks harder. Help them invent their own. Give them that leg up. Show them Kickstarter. Invent ideas along with them.

The best skill to have? In my opinion it has got to be an inherent ability to express your ideas clearly – and visually. Not only being able to write about it coherently but also the ability to sketch the heck out of it quickly. Give your kids drawing lessons. Lots of them. The worst thing to have in life is a lack of ability to express your ideas. That sucks. Write write write. Draw draw draw. And encourage them to doodle in the margins of everything they read. It has to be developed and must come naturally as a second language. Period.

And remember the words of Yoda…”do or not do, there is no try”.