Entrepreneurs' big hairy audacious goals

I'm one of the 1,057,899 followers of Richard Branson on Linked In, mainly because I like his irreverent take on business.

Many of the other followers also seem to find him inspirational, judging by comments they post.

Branson is a serial entrepreneur, having founded many businesses under the Virgin Group. One of his recent posts asked, what is your definition of entrepreneur?

He had been attending an entrepreneur event in Egypt where he referred to the oft-reported quote President George W Bush is claimed to have said that "the French don't have a word for entrepreneur".

It is in fact a word derived from the French verb "entreprendre" which means to undertake. Branson's post said that to him, "being an entrepreneur simply means being someone who wants to make a difference to other people's lives".

His question sparked a multitude of answers including one from a Frenchmen who said "not to contradict GW Bush's great wisdom, but I am French, and have started four companies so far, all are doing quite well".

BusinessDay interviews a Kiwi entrepreneur weekly, asking them about their experiences starting up a business. They live in different parts of the country, range in age from teenage wonderkids to there's-still-life-in-the-old-dog-yet 60-somethings.  

They work in varying sectors, and while some are well-funded, others are doing it by their boot-straps. Some do it alone, some do it in pairs.  

But the things they have in common far outweigh their differences.

What sets them apart from wage earners is their capacity to take risks. They're the ones who get off the couch and make their big idea happen rather than just dream about it. They work incredibly long hours in the pursuit of success and often don't get why their staff aren't so keen to do so.

They don't listen to the nay-sayers who tell them their idea won't work, persevering where others would simply give it up as all too hard. They're driven to achieve their goals and while they're motivated to make money, most see wealth as simply a by-product of success.

In a comment this year in Unlimited magazine, Sparkbox chairman Andrew Duff said entrepreneurs rarely have CVs - they think outside the box.

"They possess incredible drive and commitment needed to take something from the smell of an oily rag through to a thriving international business."

Duff's national angel funding group backs its investment strategy almost entirely around the entrepreneurs.

He said while there are many good business ideas, success hinges on the skills of the entrepreneur commercialising the idea.

In testing the entrepreneur, they judge their presentation skills, passion, technical and people leadership, integrity, vision, international perspective and experience as much as the business model. 

One of Branson's new bents, touched on in his latest book Screw Business As Usual, is that it's time to turn capitalism upside down and for entrepreneurs to shift their values from just making a profit to focus on people, community and the planet.

Nick McDonald, a Kiwi entrepreneur we interviewed this week, is an entrepreneur in the competitive and high testosterone world of trading forex, stocks and the like. His fledgling firm has staff working around the world teaching people how to make money out of trading. 

After the Christchurch and Japan earthquakes struck, McDonald organised a fundraising event that raised $80,000. He wanted to help make a difference.

This generation of entrepreneurs appear to be defining themselves.