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Are you a serial entrepreneur? Or just another serial business starter?


Whatever you believe, the road from idea to (hopefully) business success is, more often than not, a long and torturous odyssey. It takes dedication and grit. Paul Breen asks the question, ‘Are you a serial entrepreneur or just another serial business starter?’

There’s an old Chinese quote (Lao-tzu) that says, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The modern interpretation could be that “nothing will happen until you get off the couch”.  But getting started is only a fraction of the equation and isn’t actually the most difficult part. The real work begins after you take the first step.

Over the years, I have met many people who describe themselves as ‘serial entrepreneurs’. It is a romantic notion and some of these people fit the description well. Many others are just serial ‘business-starters’ who have never been able to move any venture past the start-up phase. They may start a lot of businesses but many, if not all, of their businesses no longer exist. There are two main reasons for this, either they didn’t identify and then solve a market problem better and more efficiently than anyone else or they didn’t execute their proposition well enough.

The second reason is particularly interesting because it is entirely within an entrepreneur’s control. It brings in all manner of variables not the least of which is the need for resilience. By this I mean that success in the long term will never be achieved unless you make an irreversible, no-holds barred, no going back commitment to finish what you have started.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t be flexible in your approach. You should. The market is dynamic and will throw you curve balls that you didn’t expect and will be forced to deal with. What shouldn’t be flexible, however, is your attitude. If your attitude is soft and complacent, then the results of your business will reflect this. You might be travelling along nicely now but complacency is like cancer – it will eventually rot your business from the inside out.

Complacency is typically a function of ‘easy’ early success and/or a lack of a clear ‘living and breathing’ long term vision. Without a clear long-term vision, that is communicated and understood by all levels within an enterprise, a business will default to working in day-to-day mode every day. How can anything else be expected? This means that the loudest issues get dealt with first and the future will have to wait until the day-to-day stuff gets sorted. The problem is, it never gets sorted.

Entrepreneurs that have endured great hardships to succeed rarely become complacent. They know what it took to get there in the first place and feel that their success was part luck/part grunt. They never feel a sense of entitlement and this keeps them grounded. Complacent entrepreneurs, or those that achieved ‘easy’ early success, feel that their success was deserved and that they are entitled to more and more of the same. They think that the gravy train will continue indefinitely. It won’t. Sooner or later someone hungrier and better will come along and eat your lunch. They always do.

The best companies understand that business is a long game. They best business people don’t buzz around like many serial business starters; instead they focus on solving real market problems and driving their competitors into the ground. They understand that they need to finish what they started and they evolve their capabilities and capacities as they go along. They have a clear vision and a set of mini-milestones that keep them on track. More than anything else their resolve never weakens.

It takes guts to start a business. But it takes grit, determination and a never say die attitude to turn it into an enduring, prosperous enterprise. The first step is important but it is what happens during the next 10,000 (or more) that will determine where you end up.

So, are you a serial entrepreneur or just another serial business starter?

Paul Breen is a pioneer of ‘pop up’ retailing in Australasia and the founder of the 185-store seasonal retail chain, Calendar Club. A serial entrepreneur, investor and advisor/mentor, Paul’s view on business is simple – forget the fluff, keep moving forward and focus on solving real market problems at the lowest possible cost.

Photo: Shahram Sharif

Are you a serial entrepreneur? Or just a serial business starter?