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Age-Old Business Lessons from a Superstar Among Entrepreneurs

R. Kirk Huntsman on business lessons for entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurship has transformed drastically over the past few decades. Entrepreneurs might be starting new ventures in order to be their own boss or to chase a dream, yet there are still tried and true lessons that can be applied to just about any endeavor, whether it’s an e-commerce website, a private medical practice, or a social enterprise.

In a recent interview with Forbes, Virgin founder Richard Branson offered “business lessons he’d earned [sic] over the years did he think were just as relevant and valuable to new entrepreneurs today.”

Be a Problem Solver

Consider it the difference between a must-have and a nice-to-have product. Branson has summarized the distinction this way: “From the day I took my first steps as an entrepreneur, I’ve felt that the only mission worth pursuing in business is to make people’s lives better.”

Don’t Limit Your Motivation to Money

Research suggests that pursuing intrinsic motivators are the key to long-lasting success. (Think: engagement, inherent satisfaction and pleasure, the inward positive reinforcement that occurs from doing something regardless of the external rewards.) According to the 2010 article, Money Is Not The Best Motivator, “most successful entrepreneurs say that their primary motivation has been to build something lasting, not to make a lot of money…Money is a byproduct, and usually a secondary one at that, for such achievers.”

Be Prepared to “Pivot”

This one is especially revealing as it is well-documented that Branson has had some Virgin companies that haven’t fared as well as others. But he doesn’t count those ventures as failures, telling Forbes:

“A good example is our first venture Student magazine. After a healthy print run and some early success it became clear that the magazine wouldn’t turn a profit, however the section in the back pages where we’d sell mail-order records was booming. We stopped printing the magazine and opened a record store, and Virgin Records was born.”

The concept of “the pivot” has become popular in the lexicon of entrepreneurship since the 2011  publication of Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup. Ries defines a pivot as making “a structural course correction to test a new fundamental hypothesis about the product, strategy and engine of growth.”

Of course, there is no silver bullet for entrepreneurial success. But Richard Branson’s well-founded principles are a good blueprint from which to start.

Click here to read the full interview with Branson and Forbes writer Alison Coleman.

Want to be an Entrepreneur? Make Sure You Can Commit To These 3 Things.

R. Kirk Huntsman blog about commiting to startups

Think you’ve got an entrepreneurial spirit? Want to put your work experience to the test by launching your own business venture? Good for you. Entrepreneurism is a noble and worthwhile endeavor.

Maybe you want to make your side hustle your main hustle, or perhaps you’ve been quietly researching a genius “why hasn’t anyone thought of this?” idea for which you’ve already identified a target customer.

Whatever your entrepreneurial impulse, keep this in mind: “There’s a good chance you’re going to hate being an entrepreneur.” That’s the cautionary warning from Ellen Rubin, CEO and co-founder of ClearSky Data, who offers this advice in “The 3 Curve Balls That Strike Out the Most Entrepreneurs” for Entrepreneur.

In the article, Rubin shares the three most common challenges she has seen entrepreneurs face. The challenges that she lists are good ones, so I’m sharing them with you here in my blog. In my experience, the best way to overcome a challenge is to accept it, and to commit to knowing that it exists. So if you’re going to become an entrepreneur, here are three challenges you must commit to.

1. Commit to Being Okay with Being Alone

Holding fast to your ideas, even the ones that seem outlandish to your friends and colleagues, might mean keeping to yourself for a while. As your business changes from just thoughts in your head or on paper to an established outfit, you might be wise to reign in your impulse to share and seek the attaboy from others.  

Says Rubin:

“Are you a person who can’t stand feeling like an outsider, or needs validation from others to make decisions? If so, entrepreneurship might not be the path for you.”

2. Commit to Creating a Business Culture That Actually Works

For this, I’ll defer to Rubin’s own testimonial:

“Once, I was part of an early-stage startup team that struggled with a new hire. The person had ideal technical qualifications for the job, but she wasn’t fitting into our company’s culture. The team was small and close-knit, so this issue was a serious consideration. We weighed our options: let the culture take a back seat, or make a hard staffing decision that preserved the team’s original vision.

We chose the former, but we were wrong. Each of us had worked at companies with varying levels of employee engagement, and thought a less-engaged team member wouldn’t impact our company’s culture. In this case, the employee became increasingly unhappy and further detached without the support of her team, and the situation became more negative for all involved.”

3. Commit to Not Becoming a Billion-Dollar Unicorn

Don’t assume that your endeavor will be a straight-shot to success. Don’t assume that you will become rich and you’ll be one of the high-valuation startups that Rubin calls “billion-dollar unicorns.” There’s a wide

The Rise of Social Entrepreneurship

R Kirk Huntsman on the rise of social entrepreneurship

One of the appeals of entrepreneurship might be to become your own boss. But going into business for yourself doesn’t mean that you’ll be the only person who benefits from your enterprise.

Helping others is often a key part of being an entrepreneur. In fact, many entrepreneurs are turning to social entrepreneurship or using a business platform to give back to others.

According to a report by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), exponentially more people are interested in—and pursuing—social entrepreneurship.

If you’re unsure about what the term social entrepreneur means, look no further than Toms, the company that’s at the forefront of the “one for one” business model that helps a person in need with every product purchased. Toms began with a simple goodwill idea that turned into a global movement and a profitable business. The company fulfills this promise with various divisions, including Toms Shoes (that matches every pair of shoes purchased with a new pair of shoes for a child in need) and Toms Eyewear (purchases in this department help restore sight and supports sustainable community-based eye care programs). Since 2006, Toms Shoes has provided over 60 million pairs of shoes to children and Toms Eyewear has restored sight to more than 400,000 individuals.

But there are smaller ways to incorporate social entrepreneurship into a business model, says a recent Forbes article about the GEM study. For many people, social entrepreneurship is about what Siri Terjesen calls “people starting any initiative that has a social, environmental or community objective. Terjesen is one of the GEM study’s co-authors and a professor at American University.

What could those social, environmental or community objectives be? Anything from starting a furniture company that solely uses recycled materials or manufacturing affordable lamps and selling them to communities where there’s not reliable electricity

That said, true social entrepreneurship in a business-model sense is not for everyone—and should not be for everyone.

In a 2012 Harvard Business Review post, “Not Everyone Should Be a Social Entrepreneur,” Lara Galinsky says:

“Most members of this generation will not be social entrepreneurs, and they shouldn’t be. But if we can channel their altruism and give them the tools, methodologies, and frameworks from the most successful social entrepreneurs, they will be changemakers, champions, and supporters of the work. They will make meaningful contributions to the world not by founding organizations but by bringing their best selves — their heart and head — to their work.”

Galinsky knows of what she speaks. As the vice president of Echoing Green, a nonprofit that offers seed funding to social entrepreneurs launching bold organizations to solve big problems, she is directly charged with leading the next generation of leaders.

If you’re thinking about creating a new social enterprise—or incorporating a social enterprise into your existing business model—do your research. For starters,  Naomi Enevoldson’s website  is a great place to begin with helpful articles that help you answer questions, like “Is Social Entrepreneurship For You?” and “What Is a Social Entrepreneur?

Whenever, and however, you decide to fulfill your desire to do good and give back, never underestimate the power of one to help many.

More Baby Boomers Are Becoming Entrepreneurs (And Here’s Why)

Baby Boomers Are New Entrepreneurs by R. Kirk Huntsman

For most Baby Boomers, retirement is no longer a “sit back while drinking lemonade and  watching gameshows and taking naps” period of life. Rather, retirement is a Second Act (or a Third, Fourth or Umpteenth Act as it were).

Nothing makes this clearer than a recent stat showing that baby boomers are actually twice as likely as millennials to start their own businesses.

In an article for Philadelphia Magazine earlier this year, writer Jared Shelly takes a look at the various factors influencing the trend. As it turns out, there are many reasons that Baby Boomer are turning to entrepreneurship in so-called retirement.

Longer Lifespans

Average lifespans in developed countries have increased from approximately 50 years to more than 75 years, writes Shelly. While older age can seem like a factor that works against you in the traditional job market, it’s a plus in the entrepreneurial world.

In an interview with the University of Virginia, Jeff Williams a business coach for entrepreneurial Baby Boomers, says that customers and clients are always looking to pay for expertise, experience, and wisdom—all of which Baby Boomers have in spades.

Not only do Boomer entrepreneurs have the experience that comes with time on their side, they also have the extensive networks that come with have long careers. Williams says his average client, at about 57 years old, has over 2,000 people in their LinkedIn network. Professional networks can translate into customers and/or customer leads.

Financial Need

Many of Williams’ clients cite wanting to earn extra income as a motivation for starting a business later in life. Which is understandable, as Shelly’s article points out that a Pew Charitable Trusts study revealed: “the baby boomer generation lost between 25 and 28 percent of their median net worth during the recession.”

The Desire to Work (and to Keep Working) On Their Own Terms

“Boomer entrepreneurs have a very different perspective starting out,” says Williams in the UVA article.  “A 25-year-old entrepreneur thinks they may be Mark Zuckerberg. A 55-year-old has no such thoughts. They want to keep working into their 60s, doing work they enjoy on a flexible schedule and making some nice income to supplement their retirement earnings.”

The Pursuit of Passion & Purpose

What better time than your 50s, 60s and beyond to finally answer this meaning-of-life questions like, “What drives me?” and “What big idea have I always wanted to roll up my sleeves and execute?” Age doesn’t disqualify you from the game of life and making good on your longtime goals or your new dreams. What better time to build an entrepreneurial enterprise around your knowledge and lingering ambitions. Who says you have to call it quits?


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