Do You Have The Right Stuff To Be An Entrepreneur?

December 28, 2007

Much has been written about the skills needed for success in creating and running new enterprises. Are there any natural born characteristics that a person would need to increase his chances of succeeding as an entrepreneur?

Start up’s or the art of deal has always been one of my fav subjects. I am always looking for the most efficient curve, the best way to slice the pie, that sort of thing. So what I really like to do is talk to business folk to make sure that I have the latest thoughtware.

I have always believed it’s best to get it straight from the oven, rather than mulling through a tome to beacon out the murk as to what really accounts for success and failure – reading a book just doesn’t capture the realism of business, all it really does is reaffirm the whole marketing manifesto of how to sell a book!

One recurring theme that keeps cropping up is “efficiency.”

I don’t know of any entrepreneur who doesn’t take efficiency seriously. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the latest PDA or just something really simple like a very quick way to tie their shoelaces in the morning.

Businessmen are big into beating the curve. One aspect of efficiency that is seldom mentioned in books is the issue of return on energy. It seems curious to me that while industry pundits are often fixated with return on investment, no one really bothers with the whole idea of tacking efficiency by tracking the amount of effort needed to accomplish the goal. As a regular climber, I am only too aware of how failing to factor in ‘effort’ to get the ‘desired’ outcome spells trouble – it’s not only prudent to get the whole ‘energy’ equation right, but in my view even critical!

Nearly every single entrepreneur told me that during the initial start up phase, it’s key to pick and chose your battles. As one businessman who runs a solar heating firm in Kuala Lumpur told me recently, “Darkness, there are only X number of hours in a day and it’s important to make every working minute count. You cannot kiah lai kiah keeh and still expect to get good results!” This clearly acknowledges the fact that creating any new enterprise, be it a startup or a new idea at a large company, is a very long and arduous road, one that can’t be traveled without the need to first address the basics such as capacity, stamina and how one should best apply oneself.

The first rule is not the business or even your customers, it’s you! Stay healthy and keep your energy level high – most entrepreneurs are big into sports – it stands to reason, if you can’t even climb a flight of stairs without having to take a siesta, how the hell are you going to stay focused?

Remember the first rule starts from within – I have observed many a time how entrepreneurs are very different from most salaried men, they’re naturally competitive and one good way of honing that sort of killer instinct is to continually mix with people who are equally obsessed about wining.

The second rule is attitude. Always keep this in mind; in business your attitude determines your altitude. Every single entrepreneur I have spoken too has emphasized the benefits of keeping a positive attitude. However, many have also shared with me, this is also the most misrepresented idea in the field of how to successfully run a business. As one businessman who manufactures chicken coating powder told me, “Yeah sure, everyone say keep a positive attitude, but if the Ah Long keeps on coming to your office and all your staff and customers sees it all the time, keep positive lan chaui lah!”

I guess what he’s trying to say is one needs to be able to seize control of any hairy situation in the way a skipper takes control of a ship heading into a maelstorm and turn it around.

As he went on to emphasize, “So one day, I speak to this Ah Long fellow, I told him, you siaow ah! You come like you are some pasar malam koy yok vendor, do you have any idea what you are doing to my business? If I cannot make money, how to service your loan stupid? Now I met him in the car park (big smile).”

Being able to set the attitude is key – what I notice is successful businessmen don’t have a problem with confronting lousy performers or people who they consider to be just bad for business – it doesn’t matter whether it’s dealing with a lousy salesman or if they feel they’re just getting a raw deal from their bankers or authorities – they just deal with it! Just as their attitude affects the bottom line, they’re also mindful how the attitude of those who make up their sphere of influence has the capacity to do the same. Every successful business man must be able to seize the day by being able to set the mood of the ambience. He cannot allow events to overrun him or allow others to just step in and start setting the mood of doom and gloom – again this makes perfect sense, if you cannot even control what’s happening in your mind, how can you expect to come across as confident? What we are able to see very clearly here is; how keeping a positive attitude isn’t so much a matter of psyching yourself up with self hypnosis or telling yourself and others around you that you will be successful.

It has everything to do with, managing the perception as another businessman who runs a plastic injection business in the West shared with me,

“Hello Darkness, you think I can afford a Mercedes? You siaow ah! Now a days the petrol is so (censored) high. You really want to know the truth? Wah boh pian leh! – if I don’t project the right image, puah kang la, liao lah! – how to am I going to even ask my customer for a deposit? They will think, I will kam tiauh or chau lor! – understand or not, why you so stupid meh! Mah chee bai you! (censored)”

Many noted scholars have considered this idea of attitude and report that its roots lay in the personal value system of the individual. Although entrepreneurs must be attuned to the importance of money, most are motivated by the internal rewards of creating new ideas that solve real problems, or indeed change the world around them – that simply means putting a premium on attitude. It doesn’t matter whether it is a girl friend or someone you are going to have to work with seven days a week – if you get someone will a lousy attitude, it’s just going to bog you down and eventually slow you down to a standstill.

Another important attribute which all entrepreneurs expect and demand of those who they work with; is the ability to separate the important things from the unimportant – now if you really think about it – this goes a long way to feed a whole pantheon of business requirements typically required for enterprises to hum along efficiently, such as goal setting, allocating resources for your priorities and making sure you do the first things first.

As one businessman who runs a semi-conductor printing workshop in Jurong shared with me, “Darkness, to be very simple one, you look at my business, I only have maybe 2 or 3 customers, but they are big fish and I really jaga them properly. My competitor all lan chu lai. Go around the whole island like monkey king lidat , at the end same some more. So quality more important than quantity.”

What our debonair entrepreneur Ah Thiam is trying to say is this: He notes that a huge chunk of being able to “separate the important things from the unimportant” lies intrinsically in the ability to listen and understand the real meaning of what people are saying (especially his big customers) that is paramount because the most important information never arrives in reports or email but rather in karaoke lounges in Geylang. So what Ah Thiam has created is basically an intelligence network that makes Matahari look like a someone playing the slot machines – he regularly “jaga” takes care of his key managers by making sure, he gets key facts about their expansion plans and keeps regular tabs on what they’re going to do in the foreseeable future. That way he always remains the man of the hour because he is in a position to offer them his services as a valued manufacturing partner. Frankly, it stands the test of reason: Reports only convey facts while people can share the real meaning of facts as well as offering a view on what may happen out beyond the edge of what is knowable today.

So remember stick to your partners like glue! Besides, in my experience being able to call a business partner a friend goes a very long to make your business enterprise a memorable and enjoyable life journey. One thing that really sticks to my mind till this day is an incident when I really needed some test materials to conduct some experiments. Every where I went, everyone was just either telling me they didn’t want to deal or giving me the cold shoulder – then finally, I came across this factory owner that said, “you can use any machine you want in my factory and if you want any materials, I’ve order it for you, now don’t be distracted and just work on your thing.” Many years later when I asked why he did what he did, he simply said, “It’s a jungle out there, it’s a rat race, we all have to work hard to stay human, otherwise even if we win the race, we will just be a big money chasing rat!”

You go figure that one out.

And this brings us to the end of our first segment on how to ace it as an entrepreneur – meanwhile stay tuned for our next episode.

I hope you enjoyed this as much as we did!

Astro Boy / Scholarboy / Harphoon and Darkness 2007.

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