Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Is There a Recipe for Entrepreneurship?


I attended an advisors meeting this morning for a group that helps new start ups with their business models. The group is made up of people who share a common experience in entrepreneurship but have varying backgrounds in management, marketing, engineering, manufacturing, finance, legal, etc. There are usually about 30 of us in the room. You’d think that much brain power could really add a lot of value:  I’m not so sure.

I have attended 5 or 6 of these advisor meetings now. I was asked to be part of this group because I have helped start and sell three companies. Two successes with one flop sandwiched in between. But I wonder if I can actually tell someone else how to do it.

As I listen to the presentations and then listen to my colleagues ask questions and offer up recommendations, I am struck by the sameness of it all: as though there was a recipe for entrepreneurship. I’ve never been to a cooking class, but I can picture the master chef walking everyone through the steps that it takes to get just the right combination of ingredients, mixed in just the right way, and baked at just the perfect temperature. Voila – a perfect dish.

But I wonder.

Entrepreneurial success seems so individualized. Someone with a lot of passion and no brains can raise a lot of money; someone with a lot of money and a lot of brains can go “paws up”, and someone with the perfect business plan can still screw it up. I’ve observed that a lot of successful companies have had any combination of these events lurking in their past, but still overcame (or capitalized) on them.

I don’t think there is a recipe. It seems to me that entrepreneurs need to be a bit like Captain Jack Sparrow and treat all this advice they get as “guidelines”. Captain Jack would have been a great entrepreneur. He reacted to his environment, improvised to take advantage of whatever situation arose, and selectively decided just who to listen to (and when).

So I am still thinking about what the best advice I could offer to the companies in these meetings. Maybe it’s to act like a pirate.