- Elon Musk, Investor & Entrepreneur
Entrepreneurship is something of a mythical profession, at least in America. We tend to venerate successful entrepreneurs and celebrate entrepreneurship as a kind of “pure” type of salesmanship. Entrepreneurs are often imagined as those who were once down on their luck, but then pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and achieved phenomenal business success through grit, ingenuity, and a bit of luck.
This cultural image, regardless of whether or not it’s actually true, has led many people to believe that entrepreneurship is something of a talent rather than a skill. Some folks think that it’s something you can’t teach – you either have it or you don’t.
Can you teach someone to be an entrepreneur? Let’s break things down and find out.
WHAT DO YOU REALLY NEED TO BE AN ENTREPRENEUR?
It’ll help to nail down a working definition of entrepreneur and lay out what you need to be a successful one before proceeding.
An entrepreneur is someone who:
- (most often) starts their own business
- Tries to provide a product or service that is currently unfulfilled in an industry
- Someone who usually takes on greater than average financial risk in the pursuit of their business objectives
Essentially, an entrepreneur is a maverick or riskier-than-average businessman or woman.
But what does an entrepreneur need in order to succeed? Let’s step away from the cultural image of an entrepreneur and look at the facts. They need:
- a solid business plan
- a winning idea that has the potential to make money
- enough drive to stick with the business plan when things get tough
- at least a little bit of start-up cash
- some business sense or skills so they don’t blow through that cash
- some luck, in many cases
Of all those factors, it’s clear that some of them are personal traits and others are learnable skills.
For instance, anyone can learn how to come up with a solid business plan through schools or through practical experience. An idea that might make money is something that can’t exactly be learned, but it is something that can appear out of nowhere. There’s also something to be said about business intuition – the idea that you can learn to spot gaps where you could make a profitable a product or service. This intuition mostly comes with experience, and is a type of wisdom.
The drive to start a business plan and stick with it is a personality trait. In this case, you either have it or don’t. However, it’s safe to say that you can learn to curate this drive with enough personal experience and ambition.
Start-up cash might be something you have out of the gate if you’re fortunate and come from wealthy parents. However, you can also save start-up cash for your business idea yourself.
Any business sense or skills can definitely be learned from a business school or from hard-won experience. Some, of course, are naturally better in business than others. Luck is something that can’t be taught.
Out of all these factors, it seems clear that the factors you need to be a successful entrepreneur can, largely, be taught.
MBAS AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP
This being said, do you really need an MBA (or a similar business degree) just to be an entrepreneur of any measurable success? Many of the most famous entrepreneurs were college dropouts, yet still managed to make millions or billions of dollars.
In a nutshell, an MBA provides a few big advantages:
- it can teach you solid business skills
- it teaches you leadership and personnel management skills
- it provides you with personal connections and business industries that you can use for start-up cash, employee connections, and other social boons
An MBA, when looked in this light, can be helpful if you want to be an entrepreneur. It’s also a good route if you don’t have excellent business skills or senses already. An MBA can teach you many things about entrepreneurship, certainly.
INNATE TALENT AND ABILITY
Yet what about innate talent or ability – isn’t it true that some people are just better businessmen or women than others? Yes, that’s true. But it’s doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to teach someone how to be an entrepreneur.
In our view, business skill is a lot like any other skill. While some people are naturally good at basketball and will likely be some of the best players in the field (if given the opportunities to succeed), many others simply love basketball and train hard to become great. Both types of players may end up in the NBA, though they took drastically different paths to get there.
THE SCHOOL OF EXPERIENCE
Many successful businessmen and women say that the experience they got from actually starting and running businesses was much more valuable than any inner talent that they started out with. Only by trying out business ideas and failing can you gain the experience you need to later succeed.
In this sense, it’s absolutely possible to teach someone to be an entrepreneur. A mentor or successful businessperson could, in theory, take an aspiring entrepreneur under their wing and teach them all the business skills they need to succeed. Then, once the aspiring entrepreneur starts their first business idea, they’ll gain extra experience from running that venture.
SO, CAN YOU ENTREPRENEURSHIP TO ANYONE?
So what’s our ultimate conclusion? You can teach someone to be an entrepreneur, for sure. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone will be a successful entrepreneur.
Some people will naturally be better suited for the entrepreneurship lifestyle, which involves a heavy amount of risk and requires a constant well of ambition or drive. Such personality traits are hard to curate artificially or intentionally.
At the same time, business skills (at least the raw technical stuff) can and certainly are taught every day, whether at universities or through actual business experience. In the end, entrepreneurship is a teachable skill, but it’s also a talent. Whether or not you may be successful as an entrepreneur is both up to you and somewhat dependent on your personality and natural skills.
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Thought leaders & celebrities share their tactics for success on the Lisnic podcast by Lisa Teh & Nick Bell