Who should entrepreneurs see as role models? When Microsoft @bizspark tweeted this general question a few days ago, my immediate thought was that there were plenty of bits of entrepreneurs I liked:-
- Clive Sinclair’s mass manufacturing (but not much else)
- James Dyson’s design (but building in the UK from the start was obviously a bad move)
- Robin Saxby’s collaboration (how ARM can supply so many bitter rivals is frankly quite amazing)
- Steve Jobs’ design aesthetic & marketing (coming soon, the iToilet, the iOven, the iMoped, etc)
However, one problem with this is the whole concept of success, because when you put successful businesses under the microscope, what you tend to find is just how arbitrary their success actually was, how perilously close they came to abject failure. And as for the entrepreneurs driving those companies – well, every time I see a list of character attributes entrepreneurs ought to have (such as this list from the Startup Professionals Musings blog – confidence/leadership, uniqueness, openness, respectfulness, roundedness, humility, charity), I have to say that they correspond only glancingly with the ones that successful entrepreneurs do present. Please correct me if I’m wrong!
In fact, if experience was any guide, you ought to see endless Internet lists describing an ideal entrepreneur as:-
- pig-headed, arrogant, ruthless, unpleasant, driven
- emotionally shallow, feigning humanity only to achieve their short-term ends
- overconfident, relying too strongly on their own limited expertise
- greedy, ambitious to the point of megalomania
But then again, we all have a little bit of an angel and a demon in us, so I don’t think any of this helps much. The key characteristic shared by big stories about startups is that the people involved are on an emotional and financial rollercoaster, and such an extreme experience will naturally tend to bring out both the best and the worst in them – whichever side gets foregrounded will depend on who’s telling the story (and why).
Ultimately, I think the reason that there are so few “role model entrepreneurs” is that it is not their characters that make them rich, it is their customers. Maybe the trick is not so much good character, but good market rapport, good technical knowledge and an excellent sense of timing.