Saturday, November 26, 2011

An Education for Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurship may be the biggest myth of our time, but it is worth teaching still.

I say this because less than 10% businesses owned by new entrepreneurs actually succeed. Also, the road to entrepreneurship is actually all sweat and tears, and involves mundane things like legal details and cost controls, rather than how it's generally portrayed, a world beating idea coming out of dorm rooms. The world isn't silicon valley, and there are big businesses which usually bully the smaller ones out the moment an interesting opportunity arises. For all the disruptive force of a Facebook or a Google, which powered themselves into the Global Top 10 brands quite quickly, Fortune 500, where real numbers matter, are increasingly resilient. And, when one rules out United States of America and a few other countries like Israel, Entrepreneurship seems to be a sure way to destitution rather than a limousine drive to Heaven. This is not what the conservative politicians want you to think - indeed, they may be sincere in their thinking as entrepreneurship mostly means to them stepping int family businesses - and they exhort people to take the risks and build the surrounding mythologies. All that romanticism, one has to remember, usually distill down to the month-end worries of finding money for payroll, no less heroic indeed, but not easy by any description. 

This gap between the reality and the romantic vision of entrepreneurship makes me believe that there is a very real requirement of an education designed for entrepreneurs. This thing about being creative and taking the random plunge is nonsense, and only careful thinking and preparation can make an entrepreneur have a realistic chance of success. And, yes, this is not just about instinct but preparation, thought and being able to see beyond the obvious, as in many other trades. Following this, I also have very distinct views of what the entrepreneurship training should contain, and indeed, that's not limited to double-entry book keeping.

One of the strangest thing about British attempts to train its entrepreneurs is its classically limited view of what entrepreneurship is. This is no surprise as these efforts are usually led by people who have never been entrepreneurs in their lives. What gets lost in the romanticism of entrepreneurship is that there is a difference between being a bohemian and an entrepreneur, and the entrepreneurs are usually just the regular people with an independent view about the world around them. This independence needs to be nurtured and unleashed, and training for entrepreneurship isn't about how to keep books, but how to tame the forces of finance and channel it to the efforts of creation of something real. It is not about creating a multi-level myth, but exploration of heroics in the mundaneness of entrepreneurial life. It is not about being offbeat, but about exploring the meaning of independence. It should have more to do with philosophy and leadership rather than book-keeping and sales skills: They usually follow. 

As evident, I have many problems with the current system of educating entrepreneurs, but one is pretty basic: The starting point of most of these efforts is that entrepreneurship is all about making money. It is counter-intuitive, as most programmes will start with the blabber about how entrepreneurs change the world, and then, bang, the first real starting point is that this is all about money. Again, entrepreneurship is not about buying lottery tickets - I would like to scream - and in most cases, one has better chances of winning lottery than getting a business right. The purpose, which makes entrepreneurship such a life-force in our bloated economies, is lost at the very start. Indeed, we shouldn't expect more from people who never had a stab at entrepreneurship themselves (I speak with the authority of a failed entrepreneur, who never gave up trying), but real entrepreneurs start with a purpose in mind. Money is just one of the things they have to find, like people, premises and technology, and having more money in the end comes in the bundle of other things, like Customers that love you, a legacy of sorts and a satisfaction few other things can beat. It is indeed about changing your world, even if that means selling better fish and chips in the locality that you live in.

So, I am trying to design an education for entrepreneurs, which will take them through a series of business opportunities, case studies of successful and failed businesses, real walk-through of sales and marketing, accounting, legal and HR processes, face to face interactions with people who created successful businesses and people who failed, an understanding of our world and how one should change it, and the like. This will be about meeting people and working with them, not against them: This is about searching and finding a vision, working together to build a better product, a better-off customer, and through them, a better world. This course will use technology as an enabler, and explore technology-enabled real businesses along the way. This will be about starting a conversation which does not end with the completion of the programme, but just takes a different shape. And, this I am planning to put at the heart of whatever we do in our new business.

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