I have the good fortune to not only advise crazy-talented entrepreneurs but also to coach crazy-talented kids in robotics. Every now and then, a kid will ask, "What, exactly, is an entrepreneur, anyway?" The formal definition: someone who "organizes a business and takes on greater-than-normal financial risk in order to do so." This definition, while accurate, isn't all that helpful to the elementary school set.
So the next time your son or niece or little neighbor asks what an entrepreneur is, take a few sentences from this kid-friendly and--dare I say--more accurate definition of what it really means to be an entrepreneur.
1.) They dream big and can see things others cannot see.
You probably didn't think you needed say Clash of Clans before it was invented. But that is exactly what entrepreneurs do--they come up with solutions to problems most people don't even know exist. For example, in the 1980s, there were literally hundreds of dolls on the market geared toward toddlers (Cabbage Patch dolls) and fashion-minded young girls (Barbies). Despite this fact, entrepreneur Pleasant Rowland saw a gap. Rowland wanted to create a high-quality doll for girls between the ages of 8 and 11. Her idea was to create a series of books about girls growing up in various historic periods, giving the readers dolls they could use to reenact the stories. In 1986, Rowland created the American Girl doll. Today, over 147 million American Girl books have been sold, along with 25 million American Girl dolls.
2.) They really listen to their customers.
Entrepreneurs know who their customers are. Think about a teacher whom you loved. She might have been funny, demanding, or serious. The point is, she always said the right thing at the right time. She knew what it took to connect and get you to do your best work.
Good entrepreneurs are like good teachers. They work hard to understand who you are in order to help meet your needs. A great example of this is how Kevin Plank created Under Armour, the popular sportswear company. Plank wanted to develop a t-shirt that would hold moisture when athletes worked out. To improve upon his prototype, Plank sent samples out to college and pro players he had access to. These athletes gave Plank feedback on ways to improve his clothing line. Customer feedback, coupled with a lot of hard work, enabled Plank to grow Under Armour into a multi-billion dollar business.
3.) They're passionate--some might say "obsessed"--with their work.
Entrepreneurs think about their work morning, noon, and night. Stop and think about something that, if you could do it all day--every day--you would. It might be reading, songwriting, playing basketball or XBox. This gives you a sense of the kind of obsession entrepreneurs feel about their product.
For Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, one of the most famous entrepreneurs in history, making great, high-quality products is what he loved. Jobs is the genius behind iPads, iPhones and Macbooks. For example, Jobs had his team made over 100 designs before landing on the final Macbook Air prototype. You might be surprised to know that Jobs had a salary of just $1 a year. His focus wasn't money. His focus was being passionate about doing something he loved. "You've got to find what you love," Jobs said. "Do what you believe is great work. Keep looking; don't settle."
4.) Before they succeed, they fail. A lot.
But just because you love something doesn't mean it's easy. Entrepreneurs have to work really hard and it can take years before they see any rewards.
Think about a time when you were most proud of yourself. It might be an "A" on a test, a song well played during a piano recital, or a goal during a big game. As you think about this amazing success, ask yourself, "Was it easy?" Did you ever want to give up? Did you think you may fail, but you did it anyway?
Entrepreneurs feel like that, a lot. They know that in order to be successful, they are going to fail many times first. For example, Cheong Choon Ng, founder of the Rainbow Loom, had many setbacks. After sinking his life savings into the business, he spent a long time trying to persuade people to buy his product. Ng went to every toy store in his area to try to get storeowners to carry the Rainbow Loom. They rejected him over and over again. Several times, he was even asked to leave the store!
But Ng kept at it. Finally, one day the people at a local Learning Express store called and said they would order 24 looms to start. A couple of days later, they ordered 48. Today, over people around the world have bought eight million Rainbow Looms!
5.) They're insanely curious.
Has your mother ever told you stop asking so many questions?' Well, your mom may not like to hear this, but asking questions is the hallmark of a great entrepreneur. People who start companies are insanely curious; that means they ask A LOT of questions.
If not for curiosity, the Rubik's Cube would never have been invented. Erno Rubik was always curious about how shapes and 3-D models were put together. According to Mental Floss, it was 1974 when a particular project had him stumped. "For months, he'd been working on a block made of smaller cubes that could move without causing the whole structure to fall apart," the article reported. But Rubik fought through the failure and frustration. One day, during a walk in his home town of Budapest, he noticed the stones that lined the banks of the Danube River. That gave him an idea to build all those little cubs on a round core to allow them to move easily. That first successful prototype was literally held together with paper clips and rubber bands, according to Mental Floss, but at that moment, the Rubik's Cube was born.
This century's next, great entrepreneurs are in elementary school right now. They may be in your class or seated right next to you. Who knows? It might be you! Markus Persson, the game programmer who created Minecraft, started coding when he was eight years old. Taylor Swift, an entrepreneur in her own right, starting writing songs and playing guitar at age 12. And last month, 13 year-old Shubham Banerjee invented a braille printer to help the blind. He made his invention from what else? Lego Mindstorms programmable sets.
So the next time you wonder what makes a good entrepreneur, remember this: It is more of a mindset than anything else, and quite possibly, it could be you.