Calling Yourself an ‘Entrepreneur’ Means Nothing

June 3, 2016, 1:00 PM UTC
Mark Zuckerberg Awarded With Axel Springer Award In Berlin
BERLIN, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 25: (Editor's note: This photo was processed using digital filters) Mark Zuckerberg arrives for the presentation of the first Axel Springer Award on February 25, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images)
Photograph by Adam Berry — Getty Images

For better or worse, the craze du jour is entrepreneurship. We live in a culture where everyone is obsessed with knowing what makes great business leaders tick. The way we fall all over ourselves trying to categorize and characterize them, you’d think they were zoo animals or a new insect species.

It’s more than a little dehumanizing, if you ask me. It’s also foolish. There’s a good reason why you never hear Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg talk about themselves. They don’t talk about themselves because they don’t think about themselves. They think about their jobs. They think about their work. That’s just what CEOs do.

Listen carefully and I’ll let you in on a little-known secret: Becoming a successful entrepreneur is not about personal habits or qualities. It’s not about your personality or your background. It’s not about whether you’re a visionary, a morning person, an engaging communicator, emotionally intelligent, super productive, deliriously happy, extraverted, optimistic or some sort of millennial wunderkind.

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In fact, being a business leader is not about you at all; it’s about how you run your company. How do I know that? I’ve seen every stereotype you can think of shattered more often than not. I know what all the books and blogs say about personal brands, performance and habits. The books and blogs are all wrong.

Whether you aspire to be a small-business owner or the chief executive of a Fortune 500 company, this is what being a successful top executive is all about.

Managing the business. It’s great to be passionate about your trade, but if you’re not business savvy, you shouldn’t be running a business. Entrepreneurship is not a state of mind and entrepreneur is not a job. Business owner is a job. CEO is a job. And most companies fail because their bosses don’t understand the fundamentals of what it takes to run a successful business.

Practical purpose. It’s popular dogma that companies should have a defining purpose, but if your raison d’être isn’t practical, or consistent with your company’s DNA and culture, it’s just empty words. You can talk about changing the world all you want, but your company won’t survive unless you’re crystal clear on what it can do better than everyone else and you focus on that.


Tenacious culture. Founders don’t just wake up one day and say, “Gee, think I’ll start a company with free gourmet food, flexible hours and dogs – lots and lots of dogs.” Real entrepreneurs are driven to solve a customer problem they feel strongly about. Employees are inspired to do great work they believe in. Put those two together, and you’re in business. If it works, the trick is to capture the unique behavior that led to that result and replicate it as the company grows. That’s culture.

Product innovation. We live in an era where customers have more choices on how to spend their money than ever before. In a highly competitive global market, the best products and services win. Consistently innovating and delivering products customers love is the key to market share, pricing power, profit margins and all the perks that go with them.

Customer experience. Among the most important concepts of the modern business age is the customer experience. Outsourcing is fine, but whenever, wherever and however customers interact with your brand, their experience is all they’ll remember. The most successful brands in the world own the customer experience across all products, services, channels and markets.

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Organizational simplicity. Too much hierarchy creates bureaucracy and too flat an organization can result in anarchy. The most adaptive and high-performance organizational structure is one with as few management layers and rules as are needed to operate effectively and scale. The optimum structure is different for every company and it changes over time.

Beating the competition. Globalization means the world has never been more competitive. That goes for talent as well as products. As with every customer purchase, every hiring decision has just one winner and lots of losers. You can’t expect to sustain market leadership without consistently attracting and retaining the best talent.

The most important thing to remember is that business is not about you; business is about business. It’s how you run it that counts.