Understanding the Entrepreneur in Your Life

By Paul Hogendoorn

By Paul Hogendoorn

Maybe you work for an entrepreneur led company, maybe you are the entrepreneur that founded and leads the company, maybe you are an investor that is backing an entrepreneur, or maybe you are an entrepreneur within your company. Regardless of which category you, or the entrepreneur-in-your-life fits into, understanding an entrepreneur’s ‘logic’ and decision-making process is often confusing, sometimes frustrating, and may seem contradictory, arbitrary, and random. But most people recognize that entrepreneurs are critical to our economy, our society, and our way of life.

So, here’s a short essay to help you understand, encourage and support, the entrepreneur-in-your-life.

First of all, let’s offer a clear definition of what an entrepreneur is and isn’t. Until someone pays you a dollar for your product or service, you are not an entrepreneur. You may be a visionary, an inventor, a dreamer, an engineer, an investment raiser, but until someone pays you money for a product or service you provide, you are not (yet) an entrepreneur. There are many other characteristics and traits that come into the discussion, but if you are not generating revenue, you are not there yet. As you’ll see in the following paragraphs, this is key.

Most entrepreneurs (especially early stage and start-ups) live in one of two states of being: they are either in the “make-things-happen” state, or in the “get-things-done” state. They very seldom dwell in the state in between; it makes them restless – not enough is happening, or not enough is getting done. When things get done, they revert to the making something else happen state.

When things aren’t getting done on time, or there’s not enough evidence to support that it is getting done, entrepreneurs are quick to try to identify the obstacles to find ways around them. It could be technology, or product development, or product/market fit, or marketing or sales approach – if the desired outcome is not being achieved, the process (in the entrepreneur’s mind) is stuck somewhere in between the “make things happen” and “get things done” state, and that’s a region the entrepreneur is not comfortable in.

The difficulty is that most people are far more comfortable in the “in process” state than the entrepreneur is. Engineering wants to design the perfect product. Software developers will resist the “MVP” stage as that is the first test of their code. (They have a fun job right up to the time someone actually uses their code!). Manufacturing production managers need to follow proven processes (if they are to have any hope of delivering on time – and still have their sanity!) Administration people have a very strong sense of, and need for, order. And all of those areas fall into the category as somewhere in between “making things happen” (securing an opportunity) and “getting things done” (delivering on that opportunity). Entrepreneurs are in the “opportunity business” – they are gifted in creating them and fixated on delivering on them.

There are many trite but intelligent sounding criticisms and labels that often knock an entrepreneur off his or her track. “Bill is a smart guy, but he gets distracted by chasing every shiny new thing he sees”. “Mary may know how to make a sale, but she doesn’t know a thing about building a product”. “Jim is a great inventor, but he knows nothing about running a business.” These are just examples, but they all follow the same format: “hey, we give ‘em credit for having a great idea, but after that, they’re not really that smart, and we know better.” The problem with these types of supposedly non-critical, well intended criticisms is, they come from people that have never started things from scratch that they then had the obligation to convert to revenue by satisfying a customer; they are armchair quarterbacks, that unintentionally (and sometimes even intentionally), snuff out the entrepreneurs’ chance of the organizations’ mutual success. These are “sound bite criticisms” that make the purveyor of the criticism look (or feel) smart, but they can be fatal.

Does that mean everyone should blindly follow their entrepreneurial leader? No, not blindly, and not silently.

One of the toughest and most critical skills for the entrepreneur is communicating with the people on the team – hearing them, considering their concerns, then planning a way around the obstacles where everyone sees it as a necessary pivot, and everyone is once again focused on reaching the desired outcome, but with a course adjustment. A second, equally challenging and critical skill for entrepreneurs to have, is the ability to discern when they have a team that they can work with all the way from the “make things happen” stage right through to the “get things done” stage. Getting stuck in the middle too long means running out of money, or out of time, or out of opportunities, or out of the support of your investors or key team members.        

Not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur, and not everyone that says they are one, actually are. But if you have one in your life, understanding them a bit better will help you help them, and that will benefit far more people than just you or them; it benefits communities, families, our economy, and society in general. Why? Because most successful entrepreneurs I know weren’t focused on their own personal wellbeing – their eventual financial wellbeing is an outcome from an entire enterprise’s long-term success, converting something they saw and started, to something they guided all the way through to completion.

Paul would love your feedback. Reach out to him at [email protected].