Through the ass of the elephant

04:19, Nov 09 2012
Dr Ernesto Sirolli
INSPIRING ENTREPRENEURS: Dr Ernesto Sirolli in Christchurch in September.

In the blue light of the giant rugby ball in town, under its curved canvas ceiling, to a sold-out crowd of 130 attentive Cantabrians convened by Ministry of Awesome, Ernesto Sirolli talked about entrepreneurship.

"Entrepreneurs are like seeds," he said, in his strong and undeniably charming Italian accent.

"Different ones require different conditions to get started. Some need to be underwater. Some need the landscape to be cleansed by fire. And some have to be eaten by an elephant and passed through its digestive system before they will be ready to bear fruit."

This is the way things often feel in Christchurch. We've suffered. We've been through the fire. We've emerged from the elephant's rear end.

In fact, I'm advocating for this to be the new motto for our citizens: "Wow, have you seen the new C1?" "Yeah, it's amazing! That Sam Crofskey has really been through the ass of the elephant."

While Sam has owned C1 for years, many others have been surprised to find themselves on the post-quake path to entrepreneurship.

But inadvertency is an equally valid way to get there. This is how it happens: you grow up, in good conditions or bad. You go to school, or you don't. You travel, or you don't. You are naturally creative and curious, or you accidentally find yourself in an unexpected situation, like an earthquake.

And one day, the sum total of your experiences leads you to the Entrepreneurial Moment. You have an idea. You think it's a winner. And you want to make it happen.

Here begins the tricky part, specifically because there are some myths about entrepreneurship that often go unquestioned. The first myth is about the idea. We often think the idea is the key thing. It's not. Ideas are easy. There are millions of them, billions, fafillions.

What is hard is execution.

The execution of the idea - the making it happen - is where the second myth hides: that entrepreneurship is a solo sport. It's not. Running is a solo sport. Building a business requires a team.

And the team brings the third myth into play: that what we need is a team of experts in our idea. We're building a website, so we need a team of programmers. We're starting a cupcake company, so we need people who can bake and people who can decorate the shop. We're creating a clothing line, so we need designers. But we don't.

Or, rather, we do. But that's not the only thing we need. Ernesto describes his model as the Trinity of Management, and articulates what seems so painfully obvious as soon as it is spoken: that every business, in order to succeed, needs to do three things.

That those three things are the product, the marketing, and the financial management - you have to be able to make it, sell it, and look after the money. And that never in the history of the world has the person been born who can do all three of those things beautifully. This is why you need your team.

The problem, he points out, is that Product, Finance, and Marketing will never understand each other. "The customer wants it in green," says Marketing. "Never," says Product; "Green will ruin it!" "Who cares?" says Finance; "How much did you charge for it?" "Charge?" says Marketing; "I gave it to them for free!"

And around and around it goes. How do you win, asks Ernesto? With love. With understanding that each of these three things is necessary for the success of the endeavor, and that compromise is as essential in business as it is in marriage.

Over and over again in Christchurch, we've seen the kind of creative expression that can only emerge from adversity: things like Pop-Up New Brighton, the Festival of Temporary Architecture, and Re:START.

We've learned that, while different entrepreneurs need different environments in which to germinate, the unique conditions in our city have jump-started a whole bunch of us.

We've been through the ass of the elephant. And it's exciting to see how many of us have cracked open and begun to grow as a result.

Thanks for being awesome.


The Press