The founder of Patagonia sportswear, a $750 million-dollar company started from scratch in 1973, has an interesting take on what it means to be an entrepreneur. He says, “if you want to understand the entrepreneur, study the juvenile delinquent. The delinquent is saying with his actions, ‘this sucks. I’m going to do my own thing.’”
I think there is more to delinquency than that, but I get what Yvon Chouinard is saying.
Michael Gerber, in his book “The E Myth,” points out that most businesses are created by someone who doesn’t like their boss, wants to make more money or wants more freedom of time. Often, but not always, the businesses that are started due to one of those reasons, are just clones (more or less) of the business the founder used to work for. These types of businesses tend to do for them what their previous CEO set out to do, but they don’t ever really succeed at a high level, change the game in their industry or make them tremendously successful.
The kinds of founders Gerber talks about, who found the overwhelming majority of new businesses, aren’t entrepreneurs. That’s why he titled his book, “The E Myth.”
Chouinard is saying something very similar. The true entrepreneur is the person who decides to take a different approach because they hate the ones currently in existence, or at least think there is a better way to do it.
Right now, the insurance distribution business is full of entrepreneurs who, like delinquents, have declared that “this sucks.” They are all trying to reinvent distribution. Typically, most will fail, but in failing they will change the industry, and some will succeed wildly.
Being an entrepreneur isn’t limited to game-changers though. Even small businesses, with no real thought of world domination, can create business models that become wildly successful on their terms. This is in fact what happened to Chouinard who just set out to build a small company that would allow him to only work half the year.
For Chouinard, the norms of business weren’t good enough. He thought, “this sucks,” so he intentionally created a business that would give him what he wanted whether anyone else thought it was appropriate or not. He has built a successful company that hasn’t changed the clothing game – but it is successful – both in his and in everyone else’s opinion. However, success only came because he was willing to do things differently – his way.
As you build your business, you have a choice. Follow a conventional model, work hard and become conventionally successful, or say, “this sucks” and do things differently. Both work! What do you choose?