December 8, 2010
Define: Entrepreneur

Over the last few years I have slowly realized something. I have realized what separates the average person from entrepreneurs. On first glance, you might think it is intelligence, hard work, smart work, luck, money or any number of things. But really, there is one defining factor that every successful entrepreneur has and every unsuccessful entrepreneur / average Joe lacks:

The desire and ability to hurdle ignorance.

Let me illustrate my point:

If there are 100 people across America with what they believe to be a good business idea right now:
All 100 will think how great their new invention/idea is
All 100 will also think about how much money they could make if it took off
(20 will stop there)
Remaining 80 will consider the initial requirements to actually doing the business
They will also discover that they don’t know something critical in the process
(40 will quit)
Remaining 40 will do some research to find out how to overcome that first hurdle
They will also realize that the first hurdle is pretty tough
(30 will quit, riddled with excuses)
Remaining 10 will use spare time, spare money and hard work to overcome that hurdle
They will also come to the second hurdle, one that is massively larger and more intimidating than the first
(8 will quit, already tired from the first hurdle, unwilling to try a more difficult one)
2 will pass the 2nd hurdle of ignorance
Both of these two entrepreneurs will take their idea as far as it takes. One will discover his idea isn’t that good and will hang it up. The other will find his idea is a winner and will win. In my book, both are entrepreneurs. I’d back them both in their next venture (given that I like the idea).

Out of 100 people, 1 is successful but another is capable. So 2 are able to hurdle ignorance.

Overcoming ignorance really isn’t that difficult. I’m often very surprised by how easily the unknown triumps over what appears to be a valiant entrepreneurial contender. It really breaks down into simple mindset:

In business, heck—in life, we often come to barriers. We want to do something but we don’t know exactly how. Or we know the steps, but we don’t know how to do each step. I call those hurdles of ignorance. Most people shy away and admit defeat. They don’t know how to do it, and that’s that. Some people accept that they don’t know it all and they sit down and figure out how to do it. That person will be succesful.

When I was 20 and starting our first business with my brother. I had no idea how to make a website. It was a giant hurdle. But I was motivated, so I learned. I’m by no means a coding expert now, but I ended up writing the front and back end of a multi-million dollar website. I decided to learn how.

Andy didn’t know anything about online marketing or getting good rankings on yahoo and google, but in a few years he was mastering SEO and had our site at the top of the natural (free) results of yahoo and google for keywords that cost others $5 a click to buy. He didn’t know how to do it, but he learned. He decided to learn how.

When we were struggling and needed sales, I decided I had better get some phone sales going. I had NO idea how to sell on the phone, but I learned how. I read books, I practiced and I did it. Our sales doubled in a month, then doubled again. I decided to learn how.

In 2005 Andy didn’t know anything about venture capital and selling businesses. He knew it was important for us so he educated himself. He learned all he could. He was the reason we sold our first business, got funding for our second and sold our second. He decided to learn how.

My friend Pat had a sucky job managing paper delivery guys. He wanted to be a professional poker player. He didn’t know how to be one, but he learned. He read books, practiced and diligently gathered stats and self-evaluated. Now he lives in Vegas and makes a hell of a living playing poker as his ‘job’. He decided to learn how.

Deciding to learn how is what makes an entrepreneur. When it is something you are very interested in, it is easy. The challenge comes when it is not easy, not fun and there are many excuses for not learning it. THAT is the moment that defines an entrepreneur—when you either decide to sprint full speed and hurdle the ignorance or get distracted, use excuses and revert to average.

Next time you have an idea that seems just a little too big, start simple. Write down all the steps you think there are to going from start to finish. Which do you not know? If its all of them, that’s fine.

On day one, find out what it takes to learn how to do step 1. Day two, step two, etc.

Before you expect (probably a few hours into day one when you realize this isn’t that difficult) you will suddenly see all the steps in a new light. They aren’t huge obstacles, they are just the next thing you have to learn to do.

Decide to learn how.
Do it.
Win.