What is an entrepreneur, what do they do, who are our favourites?

5 mins
December 1, 2021
Entrepreneur, menu, souvenir, liaison - what do all of these words have in common? They’re all french! The word entrepreneur comes from 13th-century France and translates to 'to do something’, 'to undertake' or 'an adventurer'. It’s no surprise then that (as much as it may sound cheesy!) most entrepreneurs will say that their business is the biggest journey they’ve been on! So, what's the actual definition? The simple definition of an entrepreneur is someone who sets up a new business, usually risking their own money to start their venture.

What do entrepreneurs do? 

When we think of entrepreneurs, we often think of the Mark Zuckerberg's of this world, who invented an entirely new product (or world!). But some of the most successful entrepreneurs are actually people who have come up with great solutions to common problems, like Garrett Camp, the founder of Uber, or Brian Joseph Chesky, the co-founder of Airbnb. Before Uber and Airbnb, people were still taking taxis and paying for holiday accommodation - but these companies made the process much more accessible and affordable and as a result, both Camp and Chesky have created household names.

What do I need to become an entrepreneur? 

Business can be pretty cut-throat, with statistics showing that 20% of businesses fail in the first year and 60% go bust in the first three years. So, what makes a successful entrepreneur? We're going to list a few key personality traits almost all entrepreneurs have in common:

  • A robust work ethic - This seems obvious, but sometimes it's about working smarter and not longer. Knowing where your strengths lie and what needs more time and attention is a key trait of a successful entrepreneur. It ensures they aren't wasting time stressing over the small stuff like perfecting fonts on a business card; instead, they turn their time to high-impact solutions. 
  • Creativity - With fierce competition, entrepreneurs need to develop original ideas that differentiate their company from others. Creativity can come in the form of a unique idea or simply a new solution to a problem. Creativity isn’t always a lofty idea; sometimes it’s finding a new way to look at a data set or putting a new spin on a marketing campaign that helps introduce the product to more users. 
  • Passion for what they do - Entrepreneurs might not work a 9-5,  they constantly think about improving their product or service (even if that’s in bed at night!). Ever heard of the saying, 'if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life'? Well, this is kind of true for entrepreneurs, and this attitude helps drive their business to success. 
  • Motivation and resilience - This sort of goes without saying! As an entrepreneur, you may get knocked back; maybe you won't receive funding or someone might not believe in your idea. Both happened to Shaunn Pulfrey, the Stylist and Creator of the Tangle Teezer. He was laughed out of Dragon's Den but didn't let the setback knock him down. Instead, he invested his entire savings into the venture and last year alone, the company turned over £30 million. Look who's laughing now, Dragons?
  • Adaptability and flexibility - Things don't always go to plan, for example, new technology could disrupt your field meaning your product may not be as useful as it once was, or new legislation could affect how your sector does business. Adapting to change and riding the waves rather than backing up against them shows you know what your industry needs and you're willing to go with it.  
  • Curiosity and an eagerness to learn - No one knows everything and start-up businesses don't always have the funds to hire a load of staff with varying expertise. This means entrepreneurs need to learn everything on the go - from marketing to accounting. Possessing this willingness and drive to learn new things will undoubtedly make any entrepreneur’s job a little easier. 

How to become an entrepreneur

Think you've got what it takes to make sure your business succeeds? Have you got an idea that will disrupt and revolutionise the industry? Fancy being in charge of when and how you work and what direction you take? Well, maybe you’ve got what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur! Let’s take a look at the steps that will help get you started on your business journey. 

  • Find the right field for you - It needs to be an area you’re passionate about, but also consider if the market is over saturated, or if there is enough room to enter. Also consider other questions such as: is the field crying out for some diversity? Or are they stuck in the dark ages when it comes to their hiring practices? It's important to do some research and listen; you need to have your eyes wide open to opportunities, pain points and areas for growth. 
  • Get experience - you need to spend some time in your chosen industry, but not from the viewpoint of just one role, try out loads of different roles, it will give you a well-rounded view of the industry. This experience will also add credibility to how good your business/idea is, as outsiders will trust that you know the industry well having spent time in it.
  • Next, work out what you need. Are there any qualifications you need to get or experience you need that will help add legitimacy to your idea and ultimately make people sit up and listen? Identify some key skills you'll need and take this time to research and complete as many courses as you see relevant. Another great tip is to look at people's experience on LinkedIn and ask them if they think it benefitted their career, and if it didn’t, what do they recommend doing instead? 
  • Plan your business; there's no point in pitching a half-formed idea as you'll only do yourself (and the idea) a disservice. Make sure you do your research and know your plan inside and out; this includes your target market, logistics and strategy. That way, if you approach potential investors you'll be able to communicate your points eloquently and confidently. 
  • Network! It's pretty hard to bring your idea to life in a bubble, so get it out there and meet people that will help make it happen and tell you how to improve it! There could be a huge pain point that you're missing and sometimes talking to someone else could help you realise it. 
  • Finally, find ways to market and sell your idea; you could have the best product in the country but if no one knows about it then no one will buy it. Make sure you have a strategy in place that allows you to reach your consumers and vice versa!

Books about entrepreneurs

No matter how you like to learn, there are loads of resources out there from books to TV to podcasts. We’ve listed some of our favourites below!

Books - Who doesn’t love to curl up with a good book in hand? Shoe Dog, by Nike’s founder Phil Knight, is the chaotic story of how Nike became one of the world’s most recognised and profitable companies. Richard Branson’s chuckle-inducing Losing My Virginity charts the course of Branson’s success and shows how taking some huge risks really can pay off. Not only are there great books by entrepreneurs, but there are also books about business strategy. These books are a slightly different kettle of fish as they are less of a story and therefore less sensationalist; instead, they act as a manual and provide some salient learning points for budding entrepreneurs.

TV shows about entrepreneurs and business

TV - We’ve already mentioned Dragons Den (and when they didn’t get it quite right!) but the show is a great case study on how to create and execute a successful business pitch. The Dragon’s no-nonsense approach can seem a bit prickly at times, but commercial awareness is something all entrepreneurs need in their back pocket! Similarly, there are lots of documentaries available  about founders of big companies, from Steve Jobs to Warren Buffet and many in between. 

Podcasts about entrepreneurs

Podcasts - What better way to hear a story than straight from the entrepreneurs themselves? In How I Built This, host Guy Raz interviews entrepreneurs on all the trials and tribulations that are part of running and founding a successful business. He’s spoken to some huge (business) names, from the founder of Coinbase, Brian Armstrong, to cosmetics mogul Bobbi Brown. Guy asks the questions we all want the answers to, such as what motivates the guests, personal stories and funny anecdotes. Even if you’re not interested in becoming an entrepreneur, it’s a fun and interesting podcast where you can learn a lot!

Examples of entrepreneurs

What do we mean when we talk about inspiring entrepreneurs? Everyone’s aspirations are different but here we’ve listed  a few that do great things for sustainability from an environmental and people perspective. 

Bill Gates - It goes without saying that Bill Gates would be high up on any entrepreneurial list. If you didn’t know, he’s the mind behind Microsoft, the most widely-used business productivity software in the world. Not only has Gates done incredible things for the tech world, his charitable contributions are out of this world. He and his ex-wife, through their foundation, spend billions of dollars every year on initiatives aimed at eradicating infectious diseases and reducing poverty.

Dan Price - Another lovable CEO is Dan Price of Gravity Payments. Dan chose to raise his workers' salaries after discovering that one of his employees had been working a second job at McDonald's to make ends meet. Dan raised the minimum annual salary of his employees to $70,000, and to do this, he cut his own salary and sold his second home. He pays himself the same as his workers, and by all metrics, the company and its workforce has thrived.

Yvon Chouinard - Another aspirational entrepreneur is Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia. Patagonia’s mission to save the planet results in some pretty whacky advertising and a lot of goodwill. One campaign instructed consumers not to buy a jacket; the ad continued to list the environmental impact that creating the jacket has. The whole purpose of the campaign was to get consumers to make smart buying decisions and only buy something if they really need it. Patagonia also partnered with Fair Trade to highlight that it cares about the living conditions of its factory workers. Fair Trade worker committees also decide how some of the company’s profits are used to ensure everyone can benefit from this sustainability.

Not every entrepreneur worth talking about is one that’s started a globally recognised brand, there are plenty of real, everyday people setting up initiatives like Springpod! Sam Hyams is the co-founder and CEO of Springpod and is on a mission to help one million young people access quality work experience, check out his LinkedIn to find out what's next for Springpod!

How can I become an entrepreneur?

If you want to know more about entrepreneurship, or even how to become one yourself, why not check out some Business Virtual Work Experience programmes

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