An Entrepreneur is the captain and the company his ship

When asked, “What news from the sea?” The fish replied “I have a lot to say, but my mouth is full of water.”

Entrepreneur.  The word is from the French. Its definition: to undertake.

Undertake what?  A journey.  A journey from vision to destination.  A journey filled with passion.

Entrepreneurship is essential to the journey.  The ship, if you will, that keeps the passion in check and entrepreneur on track.  An entrepreneur without the ship will sink.  The ship is laden with the best practices, common rules, experiential lessons, and business mechanics that are unique to this endeavor.  The captain of an Aircraft Carrier has skills and tools unique to ship they sails, just as the captain of a race catamaran does.  While one might share and appreciate the skills of each other, the two – just like the vessels they sail – are vastly different and honed over years of craftsmanship.   Entrepreneurship is much the same. A captain and his craft.  The right tools for the right vessel.

Separating the passion from the process is vital.  Confusing words when discussing entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship has lead us down the wrong path.  It’s one reason we have reduced entrepreneurship to a numbers game.  Silicon Valley admits that selecting the next big thing is as much luck as science.  In order to mitigate risk, we set more ships to sea.

The thesis is simple.  Send more entrepreneurial captains adrift on the sea fate and more will return by default.  It’s a numbers game.

Two things result from this thesis.  First, we don’t train entrepreneurs in entrepreneurship. There is no apprenticeship at the knee of a more able sailor.  Instead, we toss more entrepreneurs into the sea, hoping that some, maybe more than some, will learn to sail even in rough waters.  Second, we confuse success with chance or luck.  Too many investors were sailors that were lucky.  Safely back in port they proclaim success and skill when really they were on a ship of fools where luck gave them fortunes.

Higher education realized this very fact in the late 1990s and started educational programs to educated students on entrepreneurial success.  These courses tried to reduce the passion of an entrepreneur into the process of a mechanic.   This has falsely promised young entrepreneurs that the degree qualifies them to captain through the perfect storm we call a startup.

As a future entrepreneur, are you ready to be cast out to sea, with little experience on the open ocean and knowing that fewer than one in ten will return triumphant?

Surprisingly the true entrepreneur will scream yes!

They will set a course and map it later.  Admirable as that is, it’s what investors count on in new recruits.  But might there be a better, more productive way?

Passion is a necessary driver, yet it is not sufficient for success. Silicon Valley needs to valuing entrepreneurship as much as the entrepreneur.  We need to clearly separate the two in order to prepare entrepreneurs for success and stop the loss of good and talented people to the seas of fate.  Only then can schools build better programs, and investors know how to value teams not just entrepreneurs.

The tide is changing.  With more and more people being funded, entrepreneurship programs being offered in and out of college, and more transparency being driven into the market, we are creating a new kind of worker.  Ironically we are creating entrepreneurs unskilled in entrepreneurship when what we need is more skilled captains.

The benefits are enormous;

  • Reduced risk for investors and individuals

  • A more powerful and flexible economy

  • New corporate structures tuned to more dynamic worders

  • Cultural change driving innovation through the passions of individuals

  • New tools of this trade we call entrepreneurship empowering entrepreneurs

Our new economy requires this and the individuals who invest the passion AND skills to the task will be it’s captains of industry.

An entrepreneur without the ship will sink.  An entrepreneur is a person who is willing to launch a new venture or enterprise and accept full responsibility for the outcome.  A captain on the ship of destiny.  Entrepreneurship understands the tools of innovation, finance and business acumen in an effort to transform innovations into economic value.  Don’t be sent to sea without knowing the ship you are on is sound.

Thank you again to Chris Shipley for all her editorial prowess.

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