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Do you have that entrepreneurial DNA?

My immediate family members were entrepreneurs from as far back as I can trace.  Dad was a jeweler, then a furniture store owner.  Mom wrote books and articles from her college days until she could no longer see the keyboard.  One grandfather owned and maintained his apartment houses.  The other was a grocer, then a jeweler.

So it seemed perfectly natural that my brother and I find our separate callings as entrepreneurs from the very start.  I took pictures of neighbor children, developing them in my bedroom closet, selling the prints to those neighborhood families. I was twelve.  The prints were not very good. At fifteen, I started a recording business that would pay my way through college, a business that I’d take public in a limited IPO years after, before getting into the computer software business in its infancy.  My brother, who had an artist streak where no-one could identify its roots, drew pictures that were extraordinary, and became one of the world’s one hundred most noted architects.

Basic_Berkonomics_front_cover What drove my brother and me to perform, to risk so much, to skirt bankruptcy, to press on again and again?  For us, I believe it was two important things.  First, our family DNA made us comfortable talking about risk and self-discovery in running a business, even without formal training.  Second, and more importantly, my brother and I watched our dad run his business in the most conservative manner possible, refusing to expand or take risks, comfortable with a steady income and no prospects of building wealth through building business equity.  Both of us reacted in different ways, but in common was the urge to take much more risk, to push the boundaries, to succeed spectacularly or fail and start again.  We reacted to our view of dad’s conservatism.

 [Email readers, continue here…]   We tell the story that dad was offered the general store franchise in the brand new park in Anaheim soon to be built by Walt Disney.  The price for the franchise in 1953 was $50,000.   Dad turned it down, stating that there was no chance of success for a park so far from downtown Los Angeles.  His two sons observed, and perhaps reacted in later years by pushing to take the chance for themselves equal to that declined by dad.

Are you a DNA-based entrepreneur? Or are you starting out to build the next Cisco Systems because you know how your employer has failed to do so? Or do you want freedom from the senseless bureaucracy you face daily in your present job?  Have you found the cure for cancer and need to bring it to the world?  Or is your reason for risk more basic – that you found an easy opportunity to fill a need and you have the skill and desire to take that chance.

Think for a minute about your real reasons for taking this ride. It will help you to make better decisions about future risk, about your tolerance for it, and about your inner-self.

  • Dave, After founding, or co-founding and funding over 20 firms and raising over $24 million in angel funds for some of them I understand what an entrepreneur is all about. A few great Successes and way to many failures.. My 13 years in YPO early on and then starting my own Chief Executive Forum over 20 years ago coaching other entrepreneurs I have a much better understanding of myself and others with the DNA, vs second generation just handed the title as CEO.

    I now feel that a majority of Entrepreneurs have a mild case of ADD — where they had a hard time in class keeping focused on the teacher and getting good grades as I did. Then used that lack of focus or wondering thinking to help them build and grow firms. Always thinking outside the box.

    As you commented, my dad and relatives as far back as I can see all started firms or traveled across the ocean to start a new life here in the USA.

    Working with the MBA students at Univ of AZ Entrepreneur program and in the past other Universities I see they try to teach Entrepreneurship and do take the edge off for a true entrepreneur (however, most do not get to MBA status – due to ADD). I observed that if not in the DNA they just do not seem to want to take the risk on their own – but just use other peoples money – not quite the same thing and are not true risk takers.

    You do a great job with your emails and simple to the point comments – keep it up. We have not spoken since we ACA in San Diego, Hope to see you again soon. God Bless and thanks for your publishing — Rene

  • Michael O'Daniel

    A life lesson from the entreprenurial trenches. In the late 60s I had a concept for an artist management and production company that no one else was doing at the time — in fact, the prevailing wisdom was that it couldn’t or shouldn’t be done. I did it and within a year or two everyone else in the business was following the same path (in many cases none too well, but they were bigger and more solid financially). While I may have had a great concept, I knew nothing about how to run a business. So I had an “artistic” success, but could not keep the company afloat . I’m sure many others who have launched companies have similar stories.

  • Diane Ratican

    You are soooo right Dave.
    Entrepeneurs always see things others do not and take the risks necessary to make their ideas a reality.
    Here I sit in Paris yet again rewritng the narrative for the book “Why L.A. Pourqui Paris?, a book you have helped me with from the get-go that I need to complete by year end so it will be released in 2014.
    When deciding whether or not to totally create something new one only has to ask themselves the question, How will you feel if you do not take the risk to pursue the idea and turn it into a reality?
    Being an entrepreneur is all in how one answers that question!

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