Home Articles Ten lessons from Dr Seuss on how to be an entrepreneur

Ten lessons from Dr Seuss on how to be an entrepreneur


I recently decided to start my own business as a virtual CFO. I’m a voracious reader and, as part of launching my business, I was researching what it meant to be an entrepreneur.

Funnily, despite all my formal business education, and after reading lots about lean startups, it was while reading Dr Seuss books to my three year old daughter one night that some lightbulbs came on.

With some further serious research (aka reading more Dr Seuss to my daughter), here are ten lessons we can learn from Dr Seuss about being an Entrepreneur:

1. Why fit in when you were born to stand out? – Dr Seuss

Entrepreneurs are different. People that are different and buck the trend will cop a lot of crap along the way. Entrepreneurs need to be relentless in their self-belief for themselves, their vision and their business. They need to have enough ego to believe in what they’re doing but not so much that they believe they know it all. They hire people that are smarter than them, and reach out to mentors to learn from. Sure they’ll make mistakes along the way but mistakes don’t equal failure unless they choose to make it so.

Be who you are, because those who mind don’t matter
and those who matter don’t mind
– Dr Seuss

2. Be the Fix-it-Up Chappie

In the book The Sneetches, a “fix-it-up chappie” named Sylvester McMonkey McBean, offers the Sneetches without stars the chance to use his Star-On machine, for just $3.

The original star-bellied Sneetches, however, weren’t very happy about this as they lost their special status. Luckily, McBean had a solution for them too with his Star-Off machine that removed stars … for only $10! The Sneetches eventually grew to accept each other which is great , and along the way McBean made a whole pile of money.

Entrepreneurs are good at spotting opportunities. They recognise where people have problems and turn them into delighted customers that are willing to pay for simple solutions. Truly great ideas are those that people go … but that’s so simple, why didn’t I think of that. Entrepreneurs See. Think. Do.

Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple – Dr Seuss

3. Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not. – The Lorax

While the saying “follow your passion” has become a cliché it nevertheless remains true. Passion for the vision is what starts most entrepreneurial businesses. It’s the charismatic quality that lets entrepreneurs attract the first people to the team, the first customers to try the product from an unknown business, and money from investors. This sometimes obsessive passion is what drives entrepreneurs 24/7 and continues to be the fuel that fills the business engine. And it’s the extra caffeine kick entrepreneurs draw on when times get tough.

4. The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go. – I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

All entrepreneurs, and I count myself amongst them, are voracious readers and learners. They consume knowledge like other people consume food. Unlike those with a more academic bent though, entrepreneurs know when they’ve read enough. They avoid analysis paralysis by knowing that having 80 per cent of the information, and acting on it is better than striving to artificially seek full information. They Read enough. Internalise. And then Get Out Of The Building to test it in the real world. Remember the best form of market research is to actually try and sell something.

5.You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. – Oh, The Places You’ll Go

This is my favourite Dr Seuss book, although as my daughter says “This one’s my favourite, and that one, and that one …”.

Entrepreneurs have the passion, they research, they find their feet (their own and the team) and then they set their (first) plan of attack. Gone are the three months it takes to build a 40 page business plan.

Steve Blank, who has been called the father of the Lean Startup movement, defines a startup as a temporary organisation formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model. Entrepreneurs these days launch off a 1-page business model canvas or a 15-slide pitch deck as their starting plan. As the saying goes “if you fail to plan, you fail to plan”.

Good entrepreneurs know and accept that whatever plan they first come up with, its only the first of many. They Plan. Try. Learn. Adapt. Repeat.

6.A most useless place, the Waiting Place. – Oh, The Places You’ll Go

Everyone is just waiting. NO! That’s not for you!

Anyone can come up with ideas … on a good day, I have a million of them before breakfast. Others do great research. One of the most commonly described attributes of successful entrepreneurs is that don’t wait for anyone, anytime. Their uncompromising energy and drive carries the whole business forward.

And, they certainly don’t wait for a plane to go, or the phone to ring, or wait for a Yes or a No, or Another Chance.

7. There’s nothing, no, NOTHING, that’s higher than me! – Yertle the Turtle

King Yertle was obsessed with being the best, the biggest the highest in the land. It can be easy to get distracted by what your competition is doing. Entrepreneurs are aware of their competitors and what they’re doing, but recognise that when they’re watching competitors it take their eye off the main game – it’s looking sideways around them, rather than looking forward along the path they’re following.

8. Everything stinks until it’s finished – Dr Seuss

Entrepreneurs are also obsessed with quality (entrepreneurial obsessive is a recurring theme isn’t it?!).

They care an awful lot about their product, but especially by the customer experience. And, this is a good thing, and no time more so than when you’re just starting out. Your product may not be perfect, but beta customers get this.

Commitment to listening and responding to customers wins you loyal customers who become your best referrers.

9. Do you like Green Eggs and Ham?

In his book Green Eggs and Ham, the character Sam-I-am offers his prospect 14 different ways to eat his green eggs and ham before convincing his prospect to try them.

One of the key tasks in the customer discovery part of Eric Reis’ Lean Startup method is about repeatedly testing the message to customers until they find the one that works best. Sam-I-am and other Entrepreneurs are persistent bordering on stubborn-ness – taking A/B testing to another level. This applies when you’re selling your products and services but equally well when you’re capital raising.

10. Bang ups and hang-ups can happen to you. – Oh, the Places You’ll Go

On his path to inventing the light bulb, Thomas Edison has been quoted as saying “I have not failed 1,000 times. I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb”.

The point being that startups are a journey of discovery in an unknown area. There will be failure along the way to success, both small and large. Entrepreneurs get that failure is a prerequisite to learning. They fail, learn, don’t dwell and move on.
Fail + Learn = #flearn (thanks Pollenizer). And where the lesson is that the business model isn’t working entrepreneurs, being entrepreneurs, pivot to their next iteration and keep moving.

So, with 10 of Dr Seuss’ teachings behind you…
Will you succeed? Yes! You will indeed! 98 and ¾% guaranteed

Your particular business idea might not work. If success to you is learning and you have the Passion and Vision to give it a go, the persistence to never give up when the inevitable hang-ups occur then you will be successful.
Oh the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done!

Remco Marcelis is a Co-Founder and Virtual CFO with Virtuosity CFO Services. He has been a CFO/COO for innovative technology/cleantech businesses for the last 10 years, preceded by 4 years in private equity and 10 years working with multinational management consulting/IT services companies.

Virtuosity provides tech savvy CFO services that scale as businesses grow. They help growing businesses take the world by storm – overseeing core finances and helping business grow sustainably – providing insightful monthly reports, strategic advice & planning, efficiency improvements and fund raising.