What does it mean to be an entrepreneur
Being an entrepreneur is the hottest job title around right now, you don’t have to look very far online to find a swarm of entrepreneurs vying to be the next Gary Vee, Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos. I’ve always been fascinated by what it actually means to be an entrepreneur: is it an ability you’re born with? Is it a state of mind? Or is it nothing more than a title you bestow upon yourself? I took the question out to my network to find out.
In this article you’ll be hearing thoughts from Alex Minchin, the founder of digital marketing agency Zest Digital, and Oya Emir-Wilson the owner of a B2B specialist telemarketing firm Pebble Marketing.
ENTREPRENEUR OR BUSINESS OWNER?
Entrepreneurs run businesses. Some run one business and some run multiple businesses, but so too do business owners. Technically there’s no difference between one or the other, they both manage their own companies, likely have staff, and sell products and services to customers. Yet how and why do people define themselves? If you yourself run your own company, ask yourself the question, are you an entrepreneur or a business owner?
Oya shared a great story with me about her father, a man who came to this country with nothing and built his own local empire and someone she would classify as an entrepreneur.
“I’ve grown up with a Dad who was an immigrant, who to me was the entrepreneur, and still is, and a businessman. He came over here with nothing, ended up having a chip shop and then buying the freehold for the property, and then bought the next unit and the next unit. And now he’s got about nine shops that he owns.
This is an amazing story and one that I can tell Oya is proud to talk about. I asked her what she thinks it was that made her Dad push for more. I mean, why not stop with the one chip shop? Why go for more?
“I think this would apply to lots of immigrants who have come from poor backgrounds…my Dad was born and brought up in North Cyprus. The house that he lived in was literally a one room mud hut for eight children and two adults. They didn’t have any electricity, they didn’t have any running water…so they really knew hardship. His parents weren’t able to give him anything.
When he came over here with what money he did had…he started doing typewriters…just maintaining and repairing them. Then went into a coffee shop business, and he realised with that… that a lot of families that come over here and buy a restaurant or a coffee shop, whatever it is, it’s always the family that were in it, so the money stays in their family.
When the opportunity to buy the freehold of the chip shop with the flat above it, my Mum and Dad got a business loan and scrupulously said right, we can pay for this, this and this, so long as we are really hard working, put this amount of hours in. We then bought the shop next door, the next two or three shops, that were rented out anyway, so we were just the landlords.
And then they said ok, we’re buying these shops, but what happens if they don’t renew their tenancy? Can we pay for the business rates? And can we pay for the mortgage that we’ve got on top of those? We didn’t have holidays…we didn’t have takeaways…we didn’t have meals out anywhere. So it was a lot of hard work and sacrifice. We had staff that worked with us, but predominantly it was my Mum, my Dad, me, my Brother and my Cousin who was living with us at the time.”
To me hearing this story, Oya’s Dad is definitely the definition of what I would class as an entrepreneur. It seems to me that it was his background and that strong sense of family that perhaps comes with those more challenging backgrounds that really drove him to achieve everything that he has achieved, a wanting to have what he didn’t have and to do it for his family. I haven’t had the opportunity to speak with Oya’s Dad, perhaps I’ll get the chance to, but I’m curious how he would define himself.
Before we move on, there’s also another avenue here which is worth exploring, which is those people who currently work for themselves – they have a businesses or are starting a business, but they haven’t built a team yet, or don’t want to have a team. There’s then a question here of are they defined as business owners? Are they entrepreneurs? Do they see themselves as having a job, or are they part of the self-employed? As someone who does work for themselves, I was curious of Oya’s take on this.
“A business owner can just be perhaps somebody renting a shop and they’ve got their own business, a hair dressing salon or beauticians, or whatever it might be, whereas as an entrepreneur, they’re just growing and growing and they’re finding more opportunities…they never say no, they’re always just running with life.
It is a state of mind… perhaps as a business you just go in day in day out, do what you need to do and you don’t do anymore. Like a coffee shop for example, you’ve got your staff, you get your supplies in, you serve the customers, you go home and that’s it. But an entrepreneur is…well how can that coffee shop be utilised in different areas. That’s what I would call an entrepreneur, just trying to find an opportunity to make the most of what they’ve got.”
WHAT DRIVES AN ENTREPRENEUR?
Regardless of whether you classify yourself as an entrepreneur or a business owner, starting, running and growing a business is hard work. We’ve heard that Oya’s parents and family worked hard to build the chip shop up to what it became and which then led to their expansion into owning other shops and properties. It takes time, energy, money and a lot of self belief and mental strength to get off the starting line, overcome problems you will one hundred percent face, and push forward. A strong sense of family and building something for future generations is something I’ve observed and heard about many immigrant entrepreneurs, but I’m curious, that beyond this close family orientated legacy play, what is it about entrepreneurs that makes them continue to do, to push, to just keep going?
I was interested in Alex’s take on this. From a young age he built websites and managed to make pretty decent money running them. At his peak he had eighteen different websites all earning little bits of money, and all this whilst he was at uni. He’s since been running Zest Digital as a successful marketing agency and is now exploring other things alongside it.
“I love new things. I love solving problems and I’m not afraid to change in order to solve new problems. If you look at Zest years ago we did SEO, then we did SEO and web design, then we started doing social, then we started doing email marketing, and then we pulled away from email marketing and pulled away from social, got back to SEO, got back to website design, started doing PPC. So all this time we’ve been moulding to the needs of the market. That’s my job, focusing on what do I think is going to solve the problem best for clients.
I do run other businesses, so last year we took a big risk (Alex is referencing himself and his partner)…and I think risk taking is a big part and a big difference between an entrepreneur and a business owner. So last year we bought and moved into this house…this house is way beyond what I thought I would get to at this point, but at the same time I had to see further than what it was, in order to make that decision for me. We rent a cottage out, so we’ve got our house, a lovely house, lovely garden, and then we’ve got a cottage at the back, which we’ve done up, and that’s a fully running business now.
Perhaps it is also curiosity that plays a big part in defining an entrepreneur. As Alex said, even with Zest, he’s mixed and matched and moulded that company over years to fine tune how it best serves its clients and likely in part, followed avenues he was interested in or purely felt made sense to add and try out.
Many entrepreneurs seem to have lots of other ideas for little businesses and side ventures that they’d like to do, alongside whatever their main thing is. Some will go ahead and do them, so won’t, but the passion for continuously searching for new and interesting things is still there.
ENTREPRENEURS AND MONEY
When it comes to building businesses there’s obviously a question around is the entrepreneur doing it to solve a problem? Are they doing it because they deeply believe in the cause or are super passionate about it? Or are they doing it for the money? If you look at people like Elon Musk, certainly on the surface it appears that he is all about solving problems and that his billions of dollars is more of a bi-product that helps him to explore other ideas. Arguably there’s nothing right or wrong about what you’re motivations are, but it is an interesting question and one which I posed to Alex.
“I think that it would be wrong to say it plays no part, I think you can definitely find examples where it really doesn’t, but I don’t think it is so far removed from the passion and the other bits. At the end of the day we all have our goals and ambitions and money is an enabler for those things, and even if you’re not necessarily driven, you require that to enable the rest of it and therefore it automatically becomes something that you then focus on a little bit more.”
Similarly, for me I’ve always seen money as a means to continue doing and exploring all of the things I want to do, be it in one business or another. As Alex said you of course need to dedicate some of your focus to money, after all your business won’t survive and certainly won’t grow without it, but it seems that whatever it is your trying to achieve is far more important that the sheer goal of adding zeros to your bank account.
SO WHAT DO I THINK?
I feel confident in saying that being an entrepreneur is not something we’re born with, but is something mentally instilled within us. It is perhaps for the most part, a mindset, a belief and a drive. It’s not necessarily something that you can teach but is something you can learn and grow into. Entrepreneurs seem to be the ones who are always looking to do more, whether its a drive to be bigger and better for themselves or their families, or a fascination with something that they just can’t help but start fiddling with. They seem to be the ones who continue to keep going even when the odds are stacked against them, who take risks to see what the other side might look like.