If you read entrepreneurship and small business blogs long enough, you will notice that there is a question that keeps coming back each year: are entrepreneurs born or taught? The question became more important as younger and younger entrepreneurs become successful even before finishing High School. I’m, too, guilty of trying to answer this question, although my entrepreneurial life was much more typical, leaving the 9 to 5 and becoming an entrepreneur.
Luckily for me, there is now a book called “We Are All Born Entrepreneurs,” and I got the chance to interview the author, Steve Welch, about the book and his discoveries about entrepreneurs:
Steve, you wrote a book called “We Are All Born Entrepreneurs.” What is it about?
Steve: The book uses my story and other entrepreneurs to help others learn from their successes and failures. At the same time, it explains why so many of us have a deep-rooted passion for entrepreneurship.
Do you consider yourself a successful entrepreneur?
Steve: I have certainly had some successful ventures, but I have also had some unsuccessful ventures. However, like most good entrepreneurs, I think I have consistently learned from my successes and mistakes.
How did you come up with the idea to write a book?
Steve: As I started to work with so many young entrepreneurs at DreamIt Ventures, I became frustrated with what was clearly being emphasized at the MBA School. Too often, I saw entrepreneurs focusing on raising money as if raising money was the validation of a viable business. I bootstrapped my first business, as did most of the entrepreneurs in this book. I told the many stories in “We Are All Born Entrepreneurs” to show that there are many different paths to success. However, successful entrepreneurs develop the skills necessary to succeed and then adapt to the individual circumstances of their venture. Sometimes this means raising money from outside sources; often, it does not.
I know from my own experience and from interviewing other entrepreneurs that most people are afraid to start a business on their own. Is the fear of entrepreneurship a reason not to start a business?
Steve: Fear is certainly a natural part of starting a business. I have not found a successful entrepreneur who does not remember fear being an emotion they felt in their early ventures. So much of life and early-stage ventures is timing. I was 23 when I started my first big success, Mitos. I had no children, no mortgage, and parents that would not let me starve to death if I failed. This is a good time to start a business because the consequences of failure are not that great. More important, the benefits of success outweigh the negatives that come with failure. Whether succeed or fail, entrepreneurs learn the most on their first venture. The earlier this happens, the more they will draw on these experiences throughout their lifetime.
From the stories in the book, what is most common amongst people starting a business? Determination? Good planning? Desire to make things work?
Steve: Successful entrepreneurs find purpose in what they do. They use this purpose as a foundation to constantly learn and turn their inherited traits into the skills needed to succeed. They accepted failure as part of their learning process and are adaptable. No one gets an idea right from the start. Still, successful entrepreneurs build a plan, execute on that plan, but most importantly, adapt to that plan as new information became available.
Most people think about accomplished entrepreneurs that they got lucky and they, on the other hand, would never get lucky. Is luck part of entrepreneurial success?
Steve: There is certainly randomness to the world and a number of variables that are outside one’s control; however that is why self-awareness and adaptability are so important. If you are able to adjust to a constantly moving landscape, you increase your chance of success dramatically.
When talking about the book, you say that the paths of the entrepreneurs are different. At the same time, a lot of people are afraid to start a business because they don’t have a unique idea. Should this (not having an innovative idea) be a reason not to start a business?
Steve: Absolutely not. I know a lot of people that have started a business in which there was nothing unique about them at the get-go. Many markets are constantly expanding and need increased capacity. I know many people in the distribution business that does not have any unique value add, but they execute efficiently and make a good living. I also have many friends that have used more traditional business as a springboard to other innovative products and services once they had a customer base. Often this is much easier because the customers know you, and you know the customers. I think what is key is that entrepreneurs focus on bringing value.
What about the crisis? From my own research, people think that the good times to start a business have passed, and now it is harder to become successful. Is the crisis a challenge, an opportunity, or both?
Steve: It is both. There certainly are challenges, especially for businesses to fundraise. I think these challenges are far outweighed by the opportunities. There is so much working for entrepreneurs.
1) Communities and cultures across the globe are focusing on helping people develop the skills needed to start a business.
2) The costs of starting a business have plummeted. Whether software or physical product partnerships are easier to develop, and Alpha and Beta products can get out the door at a fraction of the cost of a decade ago.
3) Perhaps most important, the cost of reaching customers across the globe has decreased. This allows products targeted at a very specific niche to achieve profitability in a way they could not have a decade ago.
You started your first business quite young. What were the factors that pushed you to start a business instead of a 9 to 5 job?
Steve: One of the most common experiences of the entrepreneurs throughout my book was their memory of a supportive friend or family member at a young age. I was no different. I had supportive parents that even at a young age, allowed me to succeed and, yes, fail at my ventures. The lessons I learned as young as 12 years old prepared me for my ventures later in life.
You seem to be quite focused on helping other entrepreneurs succeed. Why is that?
Steve: I have always found purpose in entrepreneurship. Helping others succeed is my own selfish way of filling my own need for purpose. To me, there is nothing more exciting than seeing a need in the marketplace and working to bring value to society by filling that need. What is exciting about DreamIt is that we are helping 10-15 companies a year go through that process.
Founding DreamIT Ventures as a result of this?
Steve: Yes. I was fortunate to meet up with two other successful entrepreneurs, Mike Levinson and David Bookspan, who shared my passion for helping get businesses off the ground.
How exactly does DreamIt Ventures help and support entrepreneurs?
Steve: We provide a small amount of money, mentorship, space, donated legal and accounting, and most importantly, a community atmosphere in which each year 40-50 entrepreneurs are working in the same space to develop their businesses.
It was created as a pre-seed venture fund that nurtures enthusiastic, bright, and motivated people with big ideas who can build a prototype, beta, or market-ready product or service within three months. By providing the tools needed to flourish, this new model for funding simultaneously accelerates the development of new businesses and increases their likelihood of success.
In essence, DreamIt allows start-up companies to progress forward by eliminating as many risks as possible. For some participants who enter the program with an idea on a napkin, the three months are used to develop the product and eliminate the risk of building it. For companies with an early-stage product, the time period allows them to test, understand and refine its value to potential customers.
How different is entrepreneurship around the World? Do things happen the same?
Steve: Amazing enough, the skills developed to succeed is almost universal. What tends to be dramatically different are the cultural norms, especially around risk. America, for example, admires risk-taking, and we accept failures as part of the learning process. We celebrate those that are successful based on their own merits. Many other societies punish failure. Meaning that people in society that try and fail are looked down upon, often for life. In America, we expect people to try and fail, and we really respect those that try again.
What is shocking is how the Asian cultures recognize the importance of this and are working to change these social norms often through government policies. They are working to bring capital to early-stage entrepreneurs and focusing on their own immigration policies to recruit talent to their prospective regions. I would argue that above all else, the reason America has been so successful over the last century is that our relatively decentralized society that allowed individuals to be rewarded for successful risk-taking resulted in the best and the brightest from around the world coming to America.
Like current, which follows the path of least resistance, Entrepreneurs flow to the areas of the greatest opportunity.
Who should read the book? Any specific demographic?
Steve: Certainly aspiring entrepreneurs; however, I think there are many lessons that managers within any business can learn and use to improve their own organizations. Oh yeah, and parents, it is clear that successful entrepreneurs all had positive influences early in life the encourage them. Some parents even had extraordinary ways of teaching their children about business as early as 8.
Besides the book, how can wanna-be entrepreneurs learn more?
Steve: Most importantly, surround yourself with people that have gone through the startup process or are going through the process.