The information and communication technology (or just ‘tech’) revolution brought with it the personal computer and, a little while later, the internet—tools that helped mint millionaires at never seen before rates. As these self-made tech millionaires became increasingly younger—particularly in the US, the epicentre of this revolution—they also became more relatable and the spirit of entrepreneurship swept across the world.
The idea of starting one’s own business became an aspiration rather than a necessity for more people. Eventually, the aforementioned entrepreneurial spirit, while inspired by, quickly spread beyond the confines of the technology industry.
Needless to say, our little corner of the world was not spared from the increasingly infectious idea of ditching CVs in favour of business plans. However, it appears that most of the industries that invigorated entrepreneurship across the Atlantic (the technical ones) have either taken a backseat or are virtually absent from entrepreneurial activity this side. While acknowledging all the various economic and infrastructural challenges, I place a large portion of the blame for this on a certain mind-set that has managed to spread unchecked in the minds of our more technically inclined professionals.
Significant numbers of these professionals (mostly young ones hailing from STEM fields) place what I consider to be a too large amount of importance on mere ideas and worship concepts like “originality” and “innovativeness” to a fault. While these make for both admirable and noble goals to pursue, excessive focus on them has decimated the huge potential of local entrepreneurship. In this article, I argue against this mindset and discuss how it can negatively affect these people’s approach to building technology-based businesses (if they ever get around to trying, that is).
It obscures the difficulty of business
Now and then you encounter calls for entrepreneurship to be incorporated into more training and educational syllabi. However, from where I stand, lack of business knowledge is not the reason why so many technically inclined people are more likely to lack the motivation or the skills to venture into business.
In my opinion, the biggest stumbling block standing in the way of these people is the belief that the hardest part of venturing into business is just coming up with truly innovative ideas and/or solving the everyday technical challenges. Unfortunately, almost every kind of venture requires several other business skills and competencies without which it would fall apart. This means that all those founders who choose to completely and exclusively engross themselves in only what they are good at often discover that their enterprises are short-lived. A product or service offering, no matter how innovative, needs to be backed by a team with a suitable appreciation (and application) of all the work and business processes that are required to reap a profit off it and build a viable company.
Waiting for the eureka moment that never comes
There are people out there who are such dedicated fans of innovation and its close cousin “originality” that their main goal and purpose in life is coming up with unique, once in a lifetime ideas. Despite regularly proclaiming their intentions to strike out on their own, these people usually end up just getting jobs while they hold out for that one brilliant idea that, alas, never comes or is just never good enough. You will notice that the usually subconscious, motivation at play here is the result of a misguided dream of replacing all the potential hard work and drudgery of starting a business with just that one single burst of brilliance.
Nurturing a sense of entitlement
The simple truth is that business is one of the best vehicles for bringing your ideas and products into life (a close contender is politics). Unfortunately, this also means that you must act and operate like a business person. This would mean no more “inventing”, building prototypes and then sitting back and wailing about lack of public or government support; a pattern of behaviour which seems to be the staple of local innovators. This is not an exaggeration—people who think they have innovated something clever often pen open letters and articles bemoaning their struggles. Incidentally, social media is also not the best channel through which to submit your ideas, proposals, and plans etc. to government ministries or any other organisations.
Many of the sins listed above are regularly committed by people who place so much importance on ideas that they think that whenever they happen to strike upon an excellent one, the rules will no longer apply to them. These are the people who neglect marketing, product development, seeking funding etc. and then wonder why everything is not magically falling into place. Many actual brilliant ideas suffer a quiet death in this manner: the people behind them throw in the towel because they believe that the world owes them instant success. Unfortunately, that is not how the world works.