Entrepreneurship: Vision and Perseverance are the Only Path to True Success

The difference between success and failure is nothing less than a well honed strategy, unyielding execution, and continuous learning and growth.

by / November 18, 2014
Those household names who have started successful businesses — including Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, among others — all had a compelling vision and worked hard to make them into a reality. Flickr/Joi Ito

Recently I watched a video encouraging people to become entrepreneurs. I’ve seen so many of these, where they want you to join for a fee and provide examples of people who have “made it.”

There was the CEO and president of a company — but it seemed like a company of one, just this person. Then there was “the owner” of what seemed like a very small catering and event planning company — helping primarily some local friends from the community. Finally, there was the lady who got the initiative and started a business selling diet cookies out of her basement.

Now, lots of famous and incredibly successful people got their start in the proverbial garage — RIP Steve Jobs. There are others who started with one restaurant or retail store and ended up with hundreds or even thousands (does Sam Walton sound familiar)? Everyone has to begin somewhere, and we must all start crawling before we can walk and then run. This is the entrepreneurial spirit and the drive to innovate and succeed that makes this country great.

But I couldn’t help feeling that the people who really hadn’t made it yet, were presenting themselves as if they had — taking credit for something that was still half-baked, at best. There are lots of great ideas out there, and people who want to make dreams come true, but statistics show that more than 90 percent of businesses go kaput within five years.

This is the generation of helicopter parenting, demands for unconditional love and instant gratification, where everyone is a winner and a star. Especially on reality TV, we are accustomed to success being claimed prematurely. Declining educational scores, labor outsourcing and diminishing national competitiveness bear out these marks. This is in stark contrast to the teachings of my father: “Say little and do much.”

I have worked in the private sector for small (and large) businesses. And I am familiar with how difficult it can be: the doubt about whether it can really work, the up-front investment with initially little return, the long hours and headaches borne on your own shoulders, and lots of fits and starts, never quite sure whether the business is going to make it or not.

It takes a lot of bravery and self-sacrifice to start a business and see it through, and those who do it, with a solid business plan and the desire to make it succeed, should be hugely applauded. Moreover, as a country, we should encourage and try to help small businesses succeed through small business loans, tax and other incentives, and support on Small Business Saturday and every other day.

But when people are only just starting a business, I would rather see them present themselves proudly as what they are, rather than as something they are aspiring to be.

Those household names who have started successful businesses — Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Jeff Bezos and more — all had a compelling vision and worked hard to make them into a reality.  

The key is to be honest about where you are, have a vision of where you want to be, and be clear on what you are willing to do to get there. Becoming an entrepreneur is more than just starting a business, it’s about having a business plan, making significant investments of time and money, facing and overcoming nearly endless challenges, outmaneuvering the competition, and adapting to changing market conditions as you execute. It’s really not as easy as an infomercial makes it seem.

To bridge the gap between talk and reality, we need a very strong educational system and work ethic to apply it. We’ve got to raise our educational standards and leverage technology every step of the way to provide learning opportunities that are not only in the classroom, but also virtual, social, mobile, economical and persistent; every experience is an opportunity to learn something that can help us succeed, personally and professionally.

At the end of the day, every business is as important as every other, whether it’s selling diet cookies, providing catering services or producing the next great technology hit. But the difference between success and failure is nothing less than a well honed strategy, unyielding execution, and continuous learning and growth. It’s not what we say, it’s what we do that really matters.
 

Andy Blumenthal Contributing Writer

Andy Blumenthal is a division chief at the U.S. State Department. He was previously chief technology officer at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. A regular speaker and published author, Blumenthal blogs at User-Centric Enterprise Architecture and The Total CIO. These are his personal views and do not represent those of his agency.

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