How do you know?

How do you know?

That is the question that has been playing in my head for the last couple of days.

It was my friend Jason who triggered it. I was spending my usual two days a week at the Idea Engineering Agency office in East London and having a chat with Jason – a very successful 30-something entrepreneur.

Jason was saying,“I am ready to pivot and create a new company”.

’How long ago did you start your current company?’’ I asked, casually.

‘Eleven years ago’’, he replied, without flinching.

I paused.‘’Hold on a second, you started when you were… er… 23?’’

And off I went down memory lane…

At 23… I was just finishing my business degree. I was making my first approach to Arthur Andersen with a view to taking my first step on the corporate ladder. I was far, far from thinking about setting up my own business!

Jason and I have pretty similar backgrounds and personalities, so I started pondering on the following question:

Is entrepreneurship natured or nurtured?

Do some of us have a more natural ability to be entrepreneurial? And if the answer is yes … and in my mind it is a resounding yes…  why is that?Without being too afraid of generalization… let’s look at some possible answers…

Is it because entrepreneurs are inherently more creative?

I would think not. Every corporation will have business development or strategy departments to serve this purpose: to unleash creativity; foster different thinking; promote problem solving in their people. You could challenge whether these actually serve their purpose…but that is for another discussion.

Is it because they are more comfortable with risk taking and more willing to assume the consequences of their actions?

Not exactly. Accountability, delivery and performance are the cornerstones of any Fortune 500 Company culture. Trust me, I have tested quite a lot of them. My last boss, a feisty and incredibly talented 50-something Dutchman had quite a neat way to call on your accountability. ‘’What if it was your bicycle shop? What would you do?”, we would often hear him say.

So what is the answer? Let’s take this one step further…

Is it actually because they are free spirits? Or…

Is it because they aren’t as desperate to conform as anybody else… because they are ‘’different’’?

Or even… (begging their forgiveness…)

Is it because, ultimately, they are control freaks?

Perhaps you have already guessed my answer…

Yes, to all of the above!

I have been around entrepreneurs my entire professional life, watching them with a certain degree of envy at times and with a touch of disdain at others. From my very successful friend, a Luxembourg-based venture capitalist who recently bought Renault F1, to the Russian partners I did business with last year, the entrepreneurs I have known see the world in a different way. They see opportunities, they see what they want to see and they see what they want to achieve. The force of their intent is impressive and above all they need flexibility and a life on their terms.

So how do you know? Or better said what do you think defines an entrepreneur in three main words ?

Start with a little bit of introspection, follows with a little bit of observation, and  then let me know.

published in The Independent- May 2011