With the help of shows like Dragons’ Den, and campaigns like StartUp America and StartUp Britain, entrepreneurship is now ‘mainstream.’
Coupled with reduced start-up costs and red tape, it now appears easier than ever to start your own business. The World Bank’s most recent Ease of Doing Business report, which monitors start-up costs and regulations globally, says the UK is the sixth best place in the world to set up, with the US one place behind at seventh (and Singapore in first position).
Yet, even in business-friendly countries, only a few start-ups ever grow significantly - in the UK and the US, only one per cent of businesses employ over 50 staff, and a mere 0.1 per cent have more than 250 employees. And although the States boasts a healthy start-up rate, the total number of businesses is in decline, because so many of them fail.
So is there perhaps a link between the fact that while entrepreneurship is now more socially acceptable and prevalent, so many fall at the first hurdle? I think there are three major misconceptions that are holding us back...
The first common misconception I frequently come across is that success comes from finding one amazing business idea. It’s not – success is 99 per cent about implementation. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, you just have to execute well. Equally, the best idea ever, carried out badly, isn’t worth anything.
On the other hand, such a focus on ‘the idea’ means the crucial art of managing people is frequently forgotten – the second misconception about starting up. On TV, people-management usually comes in the form of the Donald Trump/Alan Sugar no-nonsense, straight-talking school of management – entertaining no doubt, but of dubious value in the real world!
Successful entrepreneurs have to be talented managers. In Supper Club dinners our members spend, on average, more time talking about their staff than any other topic. They understand that happy employees are a prerequisite for business success, both because their productivity is greater and because they stick around for longer.
The third problem is that successful entrepreneurs are often, I think, portrayed by the media as a certain type – arrogant know-it-alls, who are happy to step on others in their way to the top. In reality they’re just normal people who can see a way of doing something new or better. As such (as I wrote in a previous blog) there are many different types of entrepreneurs, both in terms of background and attitude or personality.
People need to forget media misconceptions about entrepreneurship and get down to reality. The single most important universal trait I’ve seen in entrepreneurs is that those who are open and seek input from others are most successful. No other profession is as collegiate as entrepreneurs. Share your ideas, collaborate, support others and it'll come back. They have been through your pain so want you to succeed – there’s a real spirit of camaraderie. If you’re not sharing with others then you’re missing out on an enormous resource of knowledge and connections, but also emotional support.
One Supper Club member, Simon Campbell, says his first thought when meeting someone is, ‘Who do I know who can help you?’ At a breakfast recently, before we’d even sat down, he’d connected someone to two hugely valuable contacts.
At that same breakfast, someone else asked how to go about protecting an idea he’d had. He felt nervous about sharing it because it could be easily copied. The feedback was to share it openly so you get the best introductions and help. You’ll never be the first to have an idea so you have to be known as the one who is doing it, and own your market by executing it well.
So the myth of the entrepreneur – the visionary individual striking out on their own – is a long way from reality. In truth, it’s collaboration, with your team and other entrepreneurs, that makes the difference. As Henry Ford said, "If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself."