I’m often asked what’s the great secret to being an entrepreneur. I always reply that in fact there isn’t one, and that you just need to rely on your senses:
1. An eye for opportunity
No one gets anywhere as an entrepreneur without being able to spot an opportunity. Without a good eye, Steve Jobs would never have returned to Apple.
His eye allowed Jobs to see something different from what everyone else did when they looked at Apple. They saw: a failing computer company that didn’t have the common sense to run Windows like everybody else was doing. He saw: the potential of technology to transform the way we live our lives, and the way to put his brand on it. Think different indeed.
2. A nose for nonsense
As soon as you achieve any kind of success, you’ll be amazed by how many people want to share their expertise with you. You need to be able to tell the difference between the ones who are just trying to sell you something and the ones who are telling you something you didn’t already know. Because they’re the people you know you can trust who you want beside you going forward.
3. A taste for planning
Plan, plan and plan again. It’s that simple. Nothing good happens by accident in business. Think about the way Dr Ruben Rausing brought Tetrapak to market. First, he had to develop a unique product, make sure he had the finance he needed, and find factories to manufacture it – all without letting the competition know. Only then was he ready for launch. It took eight years of planning and development. Over the sixty years since, they’ve sold tens of billions of cartons. That’s the only real kind of overnight success.
4. Selective hearing
No matter how successful you are, at some point people will start telling you to stop doing the things you do. Some of them may be right, and others may be wrong. As an entrepreneur, you need to know who to ignore and who to listen to. You need to tune your ears so you can work out what’s really important and what really isn’t. That judgment comes with experience, but we all need to keep on working on it. It’s not always the people who think they’re important who can tell you what really matters. In fact, it’s more often the people on the frontline. That’s why I make sure I spend as much time as I possibly can listening to the people who really matter for my business: my colleagues in our Business Centres and the customers we exist to serve.
5. A touch of paranoia
What drives entrepreneurs? I can’t speak for anybody else, but for me at least, it’s not about success. It’s not about money. What keeps me going is the fear of failure. That’s what gets me out of bed at five every morning. It’s the last thing I think of when I go to bed at night. The only answer to it that I know is sheer hard work. And as the South African golfing great Gary Player famously said: ‘It’s amazing that the harder I work, the luckier I get.’
6. Common sense
You can’t learn to be an entrepreneur at business school. You need to have an instinct, and no amount of professors can teach you that. But with hard work and by trusting your senses, you can make yourself better at it. It’s a task that’s never finished, though. You need to keep working on that instinct, polishing it and honing it to make sure it’s always sharp.