11 – Are Entrepreneurs Born or Made?

11 – Are Entrepreneurs Born or Made?

Entrepreneurs Born or Made

Nature versus nurture is the big debate in today’s podcast where we’ll hear entrepreneurs explore whether they think entrepreneurs are born or made.

Results from an October 2006 poll conducted by Northeastern University’s School of Technological Entrepreneurship, found that nearly two-thirds of entrepreneurs claim they were inspired to start their own companies by their innate desire and determination, rather than by their education or work experience.

Transcript

Homer: I think anybody could be an entrepreneur if they have the drive and I think they can develop a lot of these skills. I don’t necessarily think this is one that you’re hatched with.

Stein: I always say that entrepreneurship is a philosophical disposition as opposed to a noun because it sort of drives everything you do in your life.

Rosen: One has to be able to pick one’s self up repeatedly and move on… I don’t know if you can be taught that.

Kristen: Welcome to “Sound Advice” – the brief audio download that brings the best of eClips to you. I’m Kirsten Barker.

Nature versus nurture is the big debate in today’s podcast where we’ll hear experts explore whether they think entrepreneurs are born or made.

Results from an October 2006 poll conducted by Northeastern University’s School of Technological Entrepreneurship, found that nearly two-thirds of entrepreneurs claim they were inspired to start their own companies by their innate desire and determination, rather than by their education or work experience.

Today we’ll hear thoughts from six entrepreneurs. Two feel that entrepreneurs can be made, three feel they are born and one is on the fence. Depending on how we count that last entrepreneur, it looks like our stats match Northeastern’s poll!

We’ll start with comments from Mike Homer. When interviewed in 2005, Mike was Chairman of small startup called Kontiki which is now part of VeriSign. He was also an investor and advisor to several Silicon Valley startups, including Opsware (formerly Loudcloud), Tellme Networks, Palm, and TiVo. Prior to Kontiki, Mike was a Senior Vice President at America Online and held various executive positions at Netscape Communications, including Executive Vice President and General Manager of Netscape Netcenter, and Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing.

After years of experience with technology startups, he comes down on the side of believing that anyone can be an entrepreneur and that it is not necessary to have it in your DNA.

Homer: I think entrepreneurship is a great career – an enhancer. In other words you can’t be an entrepreneur without being an entrepreneur of something, right? So I would definitely, definitely encourage everybody to go for it. I think anybody could be an entrepreneur if they have the drive and I think they can develop a lot of these skills. I don’t necessarily think this is one that you’re hatched with. So I think everybody has an opportunity to do it. I do think you have to do your homework. In other words, just because I believe everybody could potentially be a good entrepreneur it doesn’t mean they will be unless you put a lot of hard work into it and I guess that’s somewhat trite. But I just can’t imagine living life thinking that you are only going to achieve something real exciting if you got lucky. In other words, sure luck would help, but if you didn’t do the homework and the preparation then you shouldn’t really expect it to have it all pay out somehow not money wise but just success wise. So I think there’s a straightforward path to getting there which is you can learn it from different ways and from people.

Kristen: Next, we’ll hear from Greg Dollarhyde. Dollarhyde is the Executive Chairman of the board of directors of Pacific Island Restaurants, Inc., a chain of 93 Pizza Hut and Taco Bell locations in Hawaii and Guam. A 36-year veteran of the restaurant industry in the United States, Dollarhyde states that while some entrepreneurs are born… that wasn’t his experience or background. Instead of growing up with an entrepreneurial focus, Dollarhyde found an area he was passionate about and then had to learn entrepreneurial skills to become successful within that industry.

Dollarhyde: Some of them are born. Some of them are just flat born. They can’t work for anybody else and they can’t do the same old thing. You know, it’s like, open a Subway, just buying yourself a job, why would you do that, and work for somebody. I can’t work for anybody. I’m unemployable and so I think those people are born and out of that necessity they go forth and create things that work for them or create a working environment they can be in and make it happen. Like the guys that started Rhino Records. Have you ever heard of Rhino Records? Rhino Records is an old record store, used to be an old record store out in California and they had all the old used records, really esoteric staff. This guy was very creative, he started… I forgot his name. But he built a very large company out of knowing esoteric music. So oh… Frank Zappa’s first album, yeah I got it, you know, two copies, but he built a catalog literally… Rhino Records morphed into a catalog of older, obscure esoteric music that actually became a very well valued company, because I remember I was recruited by a head hunter to go be president of the company and I was … Rhino Records, are you kidding, what do they do? And so it’s a great story about used record business and I don’t think I can ever work for anybody. He was a space cadet and you wouldn’t employ him but you’d love to have dinner with him. You know, one of those kind of people. So I think some are born. I wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination, born an entrepreneur. I was more into … okay… I wanted to go out and get some stuff done in this business, I know one restaurant business I know and love. I can do something in this business. I love this business. It’s a lot of fun, with a lot fun people and now I just have to find a way to get financially independent by hanging out in this business, and that’s how I came at it, and consequently along the way you get your picture in this restaurant news and other stuff happens for you, but to me it was like you know, power, fame and fortune, pick one. I’m picking the fortune thing, that was what was working for me, but you can’t just go out like that. If you start as an entrepreneur and say, I want to do it to get rich, the odds of failing are higher. If you say I want to do something I’m really passionate about, that’s new, that I think that will make the word better or the people, their face will light up when they see it or buy it or own it. It’s a lot more fun too.

Kristen: On the other side of the debate, Daniel Stein expresses a firm belief that entrepreneurs are born, not made. Stein is President of JDS Capital, an investment firm based in New York. He is also CEO of Dimensional Associates, the operating company that manages the private equity investments made by JDS. Dimensional owns a variety of digital media assets including eMusic, The Orchard and a music publishing arm that owns over 10,000 songs.

A serial entrepreneur himself, Stein starts by sharing his own story…

Stein: The pursuit of happiness is sort of the bedrock of the average entrepreneur. Why? Because most entrepreneurs invent the professional sphere that they live inside of. I have been an entrepreneur since the day I was born like the traditional kid at the end of the driveway selling lemonade and other things that have no cost of goods because you steal them from your parents and sell them. I also in the late 70s during what was then the first gas crisis, sold doughnuts and coffee on the gas lines to stranded motorists. Literally the lines were like a mile long. And we would make two or three times of what it cost to buy doughnuts and coffee – my older brother and I. And that was responsible for buying our first Atari.

Kristen: Stein goes on to speak more broadly about his thoughts on entrepreneurship and why he feels it has to be innate.

Stein: And I always say that entrepreneurship is a philosophical disposition as opposed to a noun because it sort of drives everything you do in your life. I became an entrepreneur for one simple reason, which is that I couldn’t wake up at 5:00 in the morning and commute to a city to get to a job on time. And I couldn’t live inside of an institutional environment. Again, I’m not to criticize people who take that path. But simply for me and for many entrepreneurs that I speak to, entrepreneurs tend to build their entire life, which includes how they live, where they live, what they do. Entrepreneurs often are not satisfied with the status quo, thus they are in a constant state of evaluation. Or some might say evolution, which gets probably annoying at times. Because sometimes things are okay. But you are always trying to push ahead to know what is around the corner and anticipate. Entrepreneurs are almost always universally action oriented. Because you really need to make things happen for yourself. And you need to be an optimist, which is the fuel of the entrepreneur because many entrepreneurs have no resources. Have no training. Or up against entrenched players. And if you don’t believe that you can win, then you are sunk right out of the gate. Entrepreneurs are usually creative problem solvers. Because you don’t have the resources. Often you do four or five different jobs yourself. And you don’t have the resources to have other people solve your problems as you might in an institutional environment. And entrepreneurs are typically people who embrace change. And you have to be extremely flexible since the earth revolves on its axis all the time and things are changing. And trends are changing. That what you find is that people who don’t stay ahead of that, who can’t embrace change, get flattened by the next generation of people that come to play ball.

Kristen: So far the arguments we have heard come down pretty firmly on one side or the other. A slightly different spin comes from Donald Katz, founder, CEO, and Chairman of the Board of Audible, Inc., the Internet’s premier audio information and entertainment service. Katz, winner of the 2004 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for New Jersey, was a successful author and journalist for twenty years before founding Audible. He states that both entrepreneurs and writers have a natural knack for their skills. While many can write, only few of those are writers. Likewise, of many in business, only a subset are true entrepreneurs…

Katz: I don’t know whether entrepreneurship is one of these natural kind of personality cross with intelligence kinds of things and just for some people versus others. I mean there’s been … you probably know more than I do, there’s a lot of analysis on the psychological backgrounds. My father was an entrepreneur and my father died young, I mean people could have put that out in my world since this was something I was probably always destined to do psychologically but I know for writers, as much as I support the idea of being trained as a writer, I don’t necessarily believe it. I can read someone’s first paragraph from a letter and tell you whether that person can be a professional writer. I could be wrong a little bit, there’s some error, but not very. It’s just a knack. It’s something that has to do with how you hear and how you read and you know, it does … you can be a clear writer particularly for business but to be a writer who can compose in a storytelling way that creates kind of tension and interest for a lot of people to want to read. It’s not for everybody and I’ve no idea…And I’m not so sure entrepreneurship isn’t like that to some extent but then again it’s crossed with … in both cases with so much luck that… I must have been, I know people I don’t think it could do anything else. We just stepped in it basically and our successful entrepreneurs because of some quirk of how things came together in time.

Kristen: Next, we’ll hear from Harris Rosen. Rosen has been President of Rosen Hotels & Resorts, formerly known as Tamar Inns, since 1974. While he personally believes that he was born an entrepreneur, he would like to believe that entrepreneurial skills can be taught. He feels that entrepreneurship really boils down to each individual’s intestinal fortitude…

Rosen: One has to have the ability to work very, very hard. One has to enjoy the pain almost. One has to believe in one’s gut that everything, ultimately, will be fine and one has to be able to pick one’s self up repeatedly and move on… I don’t know if you can be taught that. I can say to you, if somebody knocks you down, pick yourself up, and that’s a lesson that you have now absorbed, but when somebody hits you hard and when you get up you’ll say, shit, he’s going to hit me again, maybe you’ll think twice about it. Each person is so unique, each person is so different. Each person is motivated by so many different things that it’s very difficult to make any broad general statements about entrepreneurship or about the ability one has to glean beneficial information from a class. I would like to think that that’s possible, but I’m not sure.

Kristen: We’ll close with a comment from Phil Holland. Holland has been an entrepreneur throughout his life. In 1970 he founded Yum Yum Donut Shops, Inc. with just one shop and 5000 dollars which went on to be the largest chain of privately owned donut shops in the United States. After selling his interest in Yum Yum, he began a non-profit organization called My Own Business, Inc. which helps foster successful entrepreneurs worldwide. He sits on the fence and states that while he felt pre-wired to be an entrepreneur, he also thinks that one can also learn the necessary skills…

Holland: Well I do know that they’re born but the peculiar thing is that trait may not emerge until later years. I don’t think it’s something that one grows up with necessarily but I sure know that I had a genetic predisposition toward it. So I think from that standpoint yes. But I would also say I think entrepreneurs can be made as well. I think that the lessons that an entrepreneur needs to know which consist of business disciplines can be learned. I think if someone wants to open a convenience store one can go to work for 7/11 and learn that business. So I don’t think that it’s an either/or.

Kristen: Thanks for listening to this segment. If you are interested in hearing more from any of our featured speakers, please check our website at eclips.cornell.edu.

That’s E-C-L-I-P-S. cornell.edu.

And remember, if it is a business topic of interest, eClips will bring you “Sound Advice”…


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