The Versions of Self - Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is a journey of growth, yes business growth, but the great ones realise early-on that personal growth is the essential key to successful entrepreneurship.

We live in a society where social mobility is a tangible reality and I had the privilege of joining a few entrepreneurs on the journey of success.

As a business matures, it grows through various stages. This phenomenon is very well documented in charts like these.

The less-documented reality seems to be the stages (or versions) through which the founder must grow in order to keep up with the growth of her business.

The versions are not age dependent, but rather a function of the capacity of the entrepreneur to adapt and grow. I have seen various entrepreneurs in their 50s and 60s who were extremely successful in the corporate world, but seemingly unable to adapt as entrepreneurs.

Version 1 - Dependency

The first version of the early stage founder is normally one of dependency. This is the stage where an entrepreneur has to learn the skills to become a self-sustaining individual in the real world, with no assurance of a salary at the end of the month. They are dependent on funders for capital, engineers for code, lawyers for advice, accountants for guidance and start-up events for networks. They seem unable to make decisions or take decisive action without the guidance of someone who is willing to lend them a hand.

Entrepreneurs who are unable to transcend this stage, will certainly fail.

Version 2 - Learning

The Zen saying: “To know and not to do is not yet to know” is very relevant to the entrepreneur. Some say that the difference between school and life is that: “In school, you're taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you're given a test that teaches you a lesson.”

This is the stage where entrepreneurs realise the power of personal growth and self-education and how it affects their efficiency in the workplace, their pitches to investors, but most importantly their relationships with everyone around them. They suddenly realise that a calm founder instills much more confidence in a team than a founder who flips out at every sign of uncertainty.

Many entrepreneurs never move beyond version two. This may be due to the fact that they never feel confident enough to launch a product and actually earn some revenue. They choose to stay inside this bubble of dreams and stories of how they are going to change the world, but remain too scared to test their products in the market.

Version 3 – Dedication

This is when the entrepreneur grasps the indisputable necessity of positive cash-flow. This is when both the entrepreneur and business graduate from a hobby to a business.

In mature markets it may be possible to avoid the graduation to sustainable positive cash-flows for a while, but in emerging markets an entrepreneur will not survive if she is unable to break through the negative cash-flow ceiling.

This is the version where the entrepreneur dedicates her time to build the teams and processes that are necessary to create growing revenue streams and a pivot or two in the business model may be necessary before the sweet spot or niche market is identified.

Entrepreneurs who get stuck in this version will be able to run a sustainable lifestyle business, but a significant exit or initial public offering will almost certainly elude them.

Version 4 – Lifting Standards

I recently heard the story of a little boy who moved from a three-star to a boutique five-star hotel. He realised that:

  • The structure of the tree-star hotel was much bigger and more expensive than the much smaller boutique hotel;
  • The employees in the five-star hotel did not seem to work any harder than the employees in the three-star hotel;
But he realised that one thing clearly separated the two experiences.

The standards of the five-star hotel were much higher than that of the three-star hotel and the staff were supported by superior systems.

What would happen if Richard Branson or Oprah Winfrey woke up tomorrow morning in your exact body and circumstances? Do you think that your business will be at the same level a year from now if one of those world-class players replaced you? Is it possible for you to lift your standards? If you lift your standards and improve the systems in your business, could you achieve accelerated growth?

Very few entrepreneurs ever reach this version, but once this version is achieved, success is inevitable. Entrepreneurs on this level are the ones who achieve multiple substantial exits and initial public offerings.

Version 5 – Giving Back

These are the Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffets of the world. They realise that capitalism is not the ideal social system and that sustainable growth is only possible if we are grateful for the blessings that we received and demonstrate this gratitude by helping the less fortunate.

These versions are not mutually exclusive, but rather build upon each other. The transition from one version to the next is normally triggered by one of these (but not limited to) events:

  • A very traumatic experience in your personal or business life;
  • A very positive experience in your personal life, like marriage or the birth of a young one;
  • A realisation that someone you respected in business is not as knowledgeable or powerful as you thought;
  • A seemingly unimportant event that triggers a realisation or moment of enlightenment;
  • Guidance from a mentor or coach.
I believe that one should always strive to achieve a higher version of oneself to the benefit of yourself and those around you. Please share your thoughts with me in the comments section below. My main aim with writing these posts is to learn from the combined diverse experiences of those around me.

“When a mind expands to embrace a new idea, it never shrinks back to its original size.” - Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.