I’m a fourth-generation entrepreneur. My father, my two grandfathers, and all four of my great-grandfathers each started one or more businesses. Entrepreneurship richly flows in my blood. I’ve also worked with more than 100 entrepreneurs in some capacity over the past 30 years in and around high-tech startup ventures. So, how does the mind of the entrepreneur work?
Clearly, some amount of entrepreneurship is born simply out of having no other choice but to forge one’s own way. Economic downturns routinely foster basement or kitchen-table innovation when it becomes clear that a job working for someone else isn’t going to materialize any time soon. I expect we’ll see the emergence of some remarkable bootstrapped entrepreneurial innovation rising from the economic ashes of this century’s first decade.
But classically, there’s entrepreneurial chutzpah—the brash hubris of believing you can do something better, faster, or cheaper than the big company you’ve been working for that never listens to your great ideas. Or maybe you never even started down the path of working for that big company.
The biggest myth I hear as an entrepreneur is this: “Oh, you’re so lucky to own your own business. You don’t have a boss!” Right. Other than clients, customers, vendors, landlords, employees, bankers, lawyers, and macroeconomic trends completely out of our control, we entrepreneurs have nobody in the world answer to. Woo-hoo!
And yet, entrepreneurship probably produces more endorphins than anything else in the world, including bungee jumping. That’s because the thrill and the reward of crafting something out of nothing simply cannot be matched. Blending together the powerful potion whose ingredients include inspired leadership, innovation, exceptional luck, and the ability to know how to build the right team is what entrepreneurship is all about.
Innate tendencies toward entrepreneurship can lie within the fabric of a cultural background. They also can be found as a familial predisposition. Some families may say that entrepreneurship is just the way that they do things. It may not occur to them that working their way up inside an already established and fully functional corporate structure might be a heck of a lot easier and even more lucrative than starting something from scratch.
Of course, starting from scratch comes with a back-breaking ton of risk, enough stress to make you lose your hair (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it), and a 24/7 work schedule because the mind of the entrepreneur is pretty much a nonstop engine of worry, excitement, and innovation.
Also, the vast majority of entrepreneurs aren’t in it for the money. Don’t get me wrong. Every entrepreneur enjoys the extrinsic financial rewards that can flow from a successful venture and/or exit. But entrepreneurship does not necessarily imply success, and many entrepreneurs never make the amount of money that they would have made in the “safe” confines of someone else’s company.
The intrinsic rewards of entrepreneurship are a coin of far greater value in the minds of entrepreneurs than any bank balance they might accumulate. We certainly see this with serial entrepreneurs who go back again and again to take risks, forge brand new paths, take on stress, and once again try and remake the world when clearly they already have “enough money.”
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One crucial characteristic is that the entrepreneur has to be completely willing to fail dramatically and very publicly. As creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson puts it, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” Entrepreneurship is a very tenuous balancing act between this willingness to fail and a brazen confidence and certainty that you can do something better than anyone else in the world. In fact, this precarious and skillful balancing act may ultimately define the mind of the entrepreneur.
To be honest, when I look back across four generations of entrepreneurs in my family, there isn’t anyone (yet) who ended up with millions in the bank. And yet I look at each of those men, and I believe they look at themselves, as being highly successful. That’s because the act of doing it themselves drives entrepreneurs. Forging, crafting, creating, conceiving, inventing, and, yes, starting something from nothing is success in the mind of the entrepreneur. It’s how we are wired, and it’s a compulsion that probably can’t be held down or contained.
As for my children, the fifth generation, I have neither encouraged nor discouraged them when it comes to entrepreneurship. I suppose like me they have grown up knowing nothing else in their house, but whether or not they too will spend their careers as entrepreneurs, only time will tell.
Steve Schuster has led Rainier Communications since he founded the company in 1993. Rainier specializes in designing and executing public relations programs for high-tech companies to influence market perception and market behavior. It has helped more than 150 companies garner real business results: achieving revenue growth, obtaining new funding, and, in more than 35 cases, achieving successful exits.
Steve began his career designing speech recognition systems for renowned futurist and serial entrepreneur Ray Kurzweil and developing professional audio equipment for Lexicon. His first marketing role as a product manager for real-time data acquisition and signal processing products at Concurrent expanded into industry marketing for measurement, control, vibration, and signal intelligence markets. Following various technology marketing management and director-level roles, he served as general manager of Data Translation’s digital signal processing division. As an executive, Steve discovered that existing PR and ad agencies were simply incapable of credibly communicating technologies to technical audiences, leading him to start Rainier.
Proving again that necessity is the mother of invention, Steve, the “road warrior,” invented Odafree, a nutraceutical product, and founded a company to manufacture and distribute it. His father Joseph founded RedKirk Homes, a real estate development company, and Schuster River Trips, a Grand Canyon rafting adventures company. One grandfather was a physician who founded both a medical practice and a radiology clinic, while the other was a lawyer who founded both a law firm and a property management and investment company. His great-grandfathers, among the four of them, founded a general store, a bakery, a health food emporium, an antique resale business and an independent shoe-component business.
Steve holds a BS in electrical engineering and an MBA, both from Northeastern University in Boston.