Activating the Entrepreneurial Spirit
Issue 34: What does it mean to be entrepreneurial?
Seven years ago, I had a discussion with my co-founder (who is also one of my best friends) about spinning down our company. We did everything from web applications, mobile apps, design, all while running the company. At one point we were able to hire two more team members and a few contractors. Having our own product studio in many ways was the dream. The five years of running our own business also came with a lot of hard work such as the operational aspects of running a company people didn't see: making sure there was a healthy client pipeline, that they were paying on time, and managing the work. We both needed to a break and started new jobs at other companies.
During this wonderful run, our friends often told us about their admiration of how we left our jobs to be entrepreneurs and be our own boss. What would they think when we shut down the business? Did we lose our entrepreneurial spirit? At times I felt like I was compromising the dream by getting a corporate job.
I found myself being constantly curious about entrepreneurial opportunities within the companies; thinking in the off hours the company might not be invested in. This is when one of my managers introduced intrapreneurship, the concept of running entrepreneurial endeavors within a company. This got me focused a lot on our company hackathons and any initiatives around new products or services.
Entrepreneurship is a word that has many meanings for people. I learned many years later that entrepreneurship is a spirit and mindset, not a role as a startup founder or any independent endeavor. You don’t have to be a startup founder to be an entrepreneur, nor are you automatically an entrepreneur because you have a startup.
I've found the entrepreneurial spirit again in the form of angel investing, this time on the other side of helping people pursue their dreams. All the founders I work with all have these in common.
Challenge with an action hypothesis
Have you ever talked to someone who is really good at identifying problems and talking about what is wrong, and when you ask them what they propose, they have no suggestions? There is nothing wrong with being a good critical thinker. However, those with an entrepreneurial spirit combine that with a hypothesis and action plan.
A sense of hustle
The word hustle can be a bit triggering these days, and it’s like due to hustle culture vs. hustling itself. I invest in pre-seed startups, and they have to hustle in order for their business to survive. They need to make a dollar out of 15 cents. Hustle can build momentum and invokes starting. Those with the entrepreneurial spirit likely have found ways to start their idea while someone else might be thinking about what they need to get started. One of the founders I invested in possesses this. She built a startup and business with Webflow and other no-code tools before raising a dollar.
They make good bets
One of the best books I’ve read recently is “Thinking in Bets” by Annie Duke. We might think of the strategy of business and our lives as a game of chess when it's actually more like poker—playing percentages. My favorite framework from the book is the 10-10-10—asking yourself, what are the consequences of my actions in 10 minutes? 10 months? 10 years?
Have an experimental growth mindset
They seek continuous feedback and iterate on it rapidly. In Frans Johansson's talk The Secret Truth About Executing Great Ideas, one of the reasons he says people can out-innovate you is because they've failed more than you. The number one way you can be more productive is to reduce the iteration cycle.
Resilience and elasticity
Life is hard enough as it is. Entrepreneurs embark in the highest of stakes with a high risk of failure. You have to be able to bounce back. It took the founders of Webflow multiple tries before successfully getting the company off the ground. Imagine if they gave up. Even if the startup fails, I've seen the same founders start a new opportunity.
The entrepreneurial spirit is about self empowerment and enablement to take action on your dreams. Having a full-time job doesn't make you less entrepreneurial. It's about navigating the curiosity of that results in building something new and different.
Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of FlexJobs, says: “To me, an entrepreneurial spirit is a way of approaching situations where you feel empowered, motivated, and capable of taking things into your own hands.
Having an entrepreneurial spirit helped me find new discoveries in current roles I worked at and helped take me on a career path I did not anticipate. Whether you’re looking for a new career path, work for yourself, or at a large company, seek ways to activate your entrepreneurial spirit.
A few books I recommend: