I recently listened to The Intelligent Entrepreneur by Bill Murphy Jr (via Audible) and really enjoyed it. I found the book, which follows the path of three Harvard Business School graduates who go on to create multi-million dollar companies, very interesting and I was surprised that it doesn’t get better reviews on GoodReads and Amazon. It seems the biggest complaint about the book is that people feel it’s too much of an advertisement for Harvard Business School and while it tries to build the case that entrepreneurship is something that can be learned by anyone, it misses the mark by building its case with examples from one of the top business schools in the world.
I must admit, I felt this way early in the book too, but as I continued listening I found myself changing my mind. Yes, the case might have been stronger if examples beyond HBS had been used, but HBS provided the author a good “laboratory” to conduct his research and given that HBS professors are leaders in research into entrepreneurship, the author had access to a lot of the thought leaders and academic research on the topic he was writing about. And, in the end, I think the lessons he takes away are very applicable to anyone wanting to start a business.
The overall takeaway from the book is that entrepreneurship is NOT an innate ability, it is something that can be learned. Like a professional athlete, the more you train the better you will be at it. It is a process of believing and commitment more than skill, skill is actually a commodity, you can hire skillful people. Murphy Jr proposes 10 rules that successful entrepreneurs follow.
#1 Make the Commitment
You must be committed, you must REALLY want it. In order to do this, assess your situation. What sort of obligations do you currently have (family, financial, etc)? Do you have support? What are the opportunity costs (other job offers, etc.) and what are your capabilities and track record.? You must take all these into account and be willing to put 110 plus percent into your endeavor.
#2 Find a Problem, then Solve It
One reason that many entrepreneurs fail is that they do this backward, they start with a solution and then try to find a problem it fits. Murphy Jr says to focus on what interests you, not what your strengths are.
Contradictory to the popular story that entrepreneurs should consider skipping college because of successes like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg did, Murphy Jr says “NO,” finish school, learn things like finance and accounting and work for others to gain experience. Indeed, as great a story as the kid dropping out of college and making billions makes, that is not the typical entrepreneur story (those are outliers). The facts and research back this up, most entrepreneurs DO finish college.
#3 Think Big, Think New, Think Again
Think big! Make your project worth your time, your customer’s time, and your investor’s time. At the same time, think new, think outside the box (as Apple says, “Think Different“). Large corporations have a hard time doing this, they have too much legacy, and that’s how you are going to compete against them and win. Keep in mind, your customer is going to have to think new too, and you are probably going to have to educate them.
And after all this, be ready to think again! Entrepreneurs rarely get things right the first time, so be ready to pivot.
#4 You Can’t Do It Alone
Entrepreneurs rarely do it alone. Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates had Paul Allen, and Mark Zuckerberg had Eduardo Saverin. Successful entrepreneurial ventures typically have 2-3 founders, founders with complimentary skills. More than that tends to cause problems due to disagreements. Finding the right co-founder(s) is all about passion, being in the right place, and being sociable. Using your existing networks and new technologies (like LinkedIn) is your best bet finding the right people.
#5 You Must Do It Alone
Despite #4, you really will be alone. It’s your dream and no one else in the world is going make it happen and make you happy. People are going to think you are crazy (for example, your parents). You are leaving the security of good paying job. But remember, you are doing something others are too afraid to do.
#6 Manage Risk
People say that entrepreneurs are risk takers, but Murphy Jr suggest the real truth is that entrepreneurs are risk MANAGERS. You must develop the skills to understand what really is risky and when not taking a risk is the real risk. Entrepreneurs always have a plan B. One important lesson (if simple) is DROOM (don’t run out of money).
#7 Learn to Lead
The role of the leader is not to be the most intelligent person, not to be the person with all the answers. Leaders inspire/motivate/connect people, hire and fire, run meetings, moderate conflicts, and lead everyone towards a common goal.
Thus, leaders must be passionate, they must communicate and listen, and they must make the destination clear. They must put aside their ego (and they must arrange the party when things go well).
#8 Learn to Sell
Entrepreneurs must learn to sell. They need to sell themselves, their company, and their product. And, they must sell to multiple different parties: customers, investors, potential employees, etc. Every good sales person knows “no=undecided” and lying might work in the short-term, but it’s not a sustainable strategy.
#9 Persist, Persevere, Prevail
Don’t give up, it’s normal to get 100 “no’s” before you get a yes. And remember, nothing lasts forever, so be ready to sell your company when the time is right. If you’re lucky, the investors will let you keep running the company.
#10 Play the Game for Life
Be honest with yourself, what do you really want out of life? Is it money, making an impact, exploiting your full potential, or some combination of all three? Murphy Jr says,
“Entrepreneurship isn’t just about solving a problem, building a venture, managing risk, or making money. It’s about having a positive impact on the world, making the most of the gifts you’ve been given, and realizing your full potential as a human being. An intelligent entrepreneur, in short, plays the game for life.”
In summary, entrepreneurship can be learned. It starts with passion and commitment, ends with patience and persistence, and most important, you define your own success. I found this to be a very motivational message!