The dictionary defines an ‘entrepreneur’ as: ‘a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so’ (Oxford American Dictionaries).
It’s interesting to note the connection with risk.
As an entrepreneur myself, I’ve never really considered myself a ‘risk-taker’. Rather, I would say that my strong belief and passion for my cause means that I simply cannot conceive of NOT moving forward with entrepreneurial activity. It is the drive to create the change, in despite of, not because of, the risks involved that inspires entrepreneurship. I would even go so far as to say I hate taking risks! I certainly don’t like failure any more than the next person. But I guess it also comes down to what you consider the risk to be.
For me, the risk of not stretching myself, not making a contribution, not trying to do something, was a far greater risk than the loss of money or a life of security which, it seemed, is the ‘risk’ one must take when becoming an entrepreneur. It’s not such a practical decision to become an entrepreneur and, indeed, if you even have to weigh up the pros and cons of starting your own business, I suspect you are not really a natural entrepreneur……
At the age of 8 or 9, I started my first entrepreneurial initiative Watson’s Newspaper. Initially handwritten on ‘No Frills’ notebook paper, the paper included jokes, stories and letters and was designed to be read by other children in the high-rise apartment blocks where I lived as a child in Hong Kong. I would weekly take the number 10 minibus into my father’s office in Central on my own, and photocopy my carefully handwritten notes, to be stapled together and distributed amongst my friends. After several editions, it was suggested that I began to type it up and my father’s secretary kindly offered to do this for me.
The real fun began when the father of one of my mother’s friends, offered to submit some poems and illustrations about a fictional bear that he had created for his granddaughter. They were beautiful and original and become a huge hit amongst my readership. Further opportunities unfolded as someone in the community paid to advertise their furniture sale within our pages and the newspaper attracted it’s first investment of HK$500 from my grandfather! I remember taking the decision that this money needed to be spent on photocopying as I was unable to use the photocopier at my father’s office that week for some reason. I didn’t want to delay publication for my eagerly waiting public so, instead of investing the money into a longer-term project, I made the decision to be customer-focused and keep the promise of publishing on time. Although others questioned my decision at the time, it laid the foundation for a value I have always held dear, of keeping your promises and exercising integrity in business.
The investment took off, though, and, although I had to leave Hong Kong a short while after, I handed over the paper to a friend (business negotiations and signed contracts included!) and a year or so later the paper was featured as a front-page exclusive on the South China Morning Post’s children’s supplement. I believe our readership reached several hundred by this stage, and had sales in many other parts of the territory than it’s original starting point in Scenic Villas.
I guess Watson’s Newspaper not only opened my eyes to entrepreneurship, but encouraged that entrepreneurship to have a social focus. And those key lessons from setting up Watson’s Newspaper stayed with me.
It is interesting to note that few entrepreneurs, if any, started their businesses with the aim of making money. It seems to me that they were motivated more by the idea of providing a product or service that was, as yet, unmet in the market and were driven by the excitement and passion of creating the product or service, or making a positive difference in this world, rather than the idea of being able to sell the business and retire to a tropical island with exclusive access by private jet. Money was a bi-product of success, not the motivation for it. Even the likes of Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and Anita Roddick for example, all for-profit entrepreneurs, didn’t stop from creating, evolving and launching new ideas in the marketplace when they were already financially secure. It seems there is something else that drives the entrepreneur.
Perhaps, in the word’s of Steve Jobs, it is the desire to ‘stay hungry, stay foolish’ that keeps us alive and pushing forward to create, innovate and inspire.
I am a trained actress and founder and director of Hua Dan, one of China’s first and leading social enterprises. Hua Dan uses the power of participation in drama-based workshops to reveal and develop individual and community potential. Hua Dan has a particular focus on working with China’s rural-to-urban migrant workers, particularly women, who work in the manufacturing and service industries, at the heart of China’s economic boom.