Saturday, February 20, 2010

Interesting "Entrepreneur" Observations from Fred Wilson

Ky Ekinci : Co-Founder Office Divvyby Ky Ekinci
Office Divvy

Interesting blog post on entrepreneurship from a highly recognized Venture Capitalist, Fred Wilson reflecting on his exchange with Raffi Amit, the Professor who runs the Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs stirred some thoughts for me...

Fred Wilson says to Raffi Amit:
"You can't teach people to be entrepreneurs, but you can teach entrepreneurs business."
Amit replies:
"There are no unique and defining characteristics of entrepreneurs."
Translation: Amit basically means one can be taught to be an entrepreneur.

This exchange caused me to reflect on several things I've read on the idea of whether Entrepreneurs are born, or made. Two articles I read and remember from late in 2009 are:
I also remember reading an interesting study by the Kauffman Foundation on Entrepreneur profiles last summer.. The study found that most entrepreneurs were well-educated, married with children, and the median age was 40 --which I'm sure can be found on the Kauffman Foundation website. That study also relates to this subject matter.

My thoughts on whether entrepreneurs are born or made: Some of the entrepreneurs I've met came from nothing; some from extreme hardships; some were the sons and daughters of "lifelong employees," those who never made an entrepreneurial move, and even discouraged their children's idea of risk-taking and starting businesses. While I've known others who were well educated, and the children of accomplished, well-networked, well-respected business people.

I'm opposed to labels because it's limiting. Making "entrepreneurship" about genes, heritage, privilege, lineage creates barriers, intended or not.

Was Henry Ford's parents entrepreneurs? Was Bill Gates' father an Entrepreneur? How about Will Keith Kellogg's parents?

My father began as a worker (whose parents were peasants, and later his father became a clerk). He stayed as a worker for years, later becoming an entrepreneur at the age of 40, due to dramatic changes in his field; and he did well as a business owner, which was not familiar territory.

That said, Fred Wilson makes some additional points in his blog post, that I think are on the money. Mr. Wilson says he believes that there are "unique and defining characteristics of entrepreneurs," such as the five he observes most freqently:
  1. A stubborn belief in one's self
  2. A confidence bordering on arrogance
  3. A desire to accept risk and ambiguity, and the ability to live with them
  4. An ability to construct a vision and sell it to many others
  5. A magnet for talent
...okay, I'm jumping around a little bit, but this makes me think about the concept of "Level 5 Leadership" as Jim Collins describes it in his highly popular book, Good to Great. There, Mr. Collins gives examples of some leaders dramatically changing their past behavior and style, impacted by a life-changing experience, and becoming a highly effective leader, and making a mediocre company good, and good one a great company...

Hence the question I'm left with, is whether the five qualities Mr. Wilson lists, (1. Stubborn belief in one's self, 2. Confidence bordering on arrogance, 3. Desire to accept risk and ambiguity, 4. The ability to live with risk and ambiguity, and 5. Ability to construct a vision and sell it to many others) can come after birth... Can these qualities be acquired through experience, circumstances, and desire?

Professor Raffi Amit or Fred Wilson's point of view?.. Does entrepreneurship come at birth, or can it be taught/learned?

Do you have an answer?


Fred Wilson's Website
Fred Wilson on Twitter: @FredWilson
Fred Wilson's Original Blog Entry

Professor Raffi Amit's Website

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