Some of the world's greatest companies were founded and turned into Fortune 500 firms by their original creators. American Express, 3M, Boeing, Citicorp, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Marriott International and Merck, to name a few, were built by entrepreneurs who turned them into great companies.
Retirees from these companies probably remember the good old days when marketing strategies could turn on a dime. You didn't need four signatures, your first born and approval committees of hundreds to move a strategy forward. That kind of agile, responsive marketing still exists today in small businesses.
In the US, small business represents more than 80% of all business, employs more than half the workforce and creates 66% of net new jobs.
Knowing the Business Inside and Out
Who better to know how their businesses run then entrepreneurs?
- They conceive a product or service (research and development).
- They test it (market research).
- They develop plans to raise awareness and educate people about the product or service (marketing, advertising, PR).
- They get someone to take the leap and purchase the product or service (sales).
- They deliver the product or service (logistics, packaging, customer service).
- They gauge satisfaction (more research).
- They develop pricing plans and billing and collection systems (Accounts receivable).
They see and know their entire operation and how one piece affects all others. How many of us can see that deeply into our organizations? If we could, would we be able to make sense of what we see?
Entrepreneurs see the world in a different way. Different perspectives foster innovation. All around a given community, there are hundreds of success stories of mom-and-pop operations that have grown successful enterprises in all types of product and service areas. It does not have to be an enterprise in your sector. Better that it is not. Seek out and engage these entrepreneurs.
- Ask successful entrepreneurs to address your staff, your executive team and your board. Entrepreneurs are agile; they adapt to changing market conditions quickly and learn how to prosper in all types of situations.
- Consider appointing entrepreneurs to the board.
- Include an entrepreneur in your mastermind group.
- Bring them in when you have a challenging situation to see how they would address it.
- Look for people who have a track record of success. It is infinitely more interesting to see how someone with little domain knowledge in your area but with the "street smarts" would address a situation.
A Dose of the Entrepreneurial Spirit
In 1971, only 16 four-year colleges and graduate programs offered courses in entrepreneurship. Today, hundreds of universities offer entrepreneurial programs and majors. Take a course and see how what you learn can be brought back to your own job and applied.
Like the entrepreneur, get to know your organization inside out, top to bottom. You can't truly market a service until you know every aspect of it, from how it was conceived to the staff that delivers it to the billing and collections that are associated with it.
Those in the know are learning about and from entrepreneurs even before they finish school. Consider three seniors at Duke University who, thirsty for entrepreneurial knowledge, founded StartEmUp, base in Durham, North Carolina. It offers other enterprising students opportunities to gain insight from successful entrepreneurs through programs, networking, mentoring and other education.
Who knows, these students may be the same ones conceiving products and services that compete directly with your company one day—that is, unless you recognize the value of entrepreneurial thinking and recruit them to work for you.
A Few Examples
Increased competition from physician entrepreneurs building their own surgery centers has threatened hospitals' most profitable lines. Some 72% of CEOs say that competition with physician-owned facilities is among their top concerns. In other words, competition from physician entrepreneurs is keeping them up at night.
Obviously, physicians are seeking the rewards of an entrepreneurial environment and investment bankers are actively seeking strong physician leaders with credibility on the clinical and business sides of healthcare. Hospital executives must figure out how to create a partnership environment with physician entrepreneurs.
The British National Health Service (NHS) visited the US last year to learn firsthand from healthcare entrepreneurs about building additional diagnosis and treatment centers to increase capacity and reduce waiting time for patients. These centers represent a sea change in the NHS's approach to healthcare. The NHS is starting to recognize consumerism and patient choice even in a nationally run healthcare model.
The Council for Entrepreneurial Development in the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina was formed with 26 members in 1982 to provide capital formation, education, training and mentoring to entrepreneurs. It now consists of more than 4,000 members.
So take an entrepreneur to dinner and spring for dessert.