Each year since 2011, the month of November is celebrated as National Entrepreneurship Month in the United States, a time to recognize the entrepreneurs who serve their communities and bolster the American economy by creating employment for tens of millions of people. During the second full week of November, Nov. 13-19 this year, we also recognize the American spirit of entrepreneurship abroad by celebrating Global Entrepreneurship Week.
For people like me, this is a special time. Not that there’s some big celebration, or presents, or songs or even a Hallmark card selection. No, it’s just the idea that we can celebrate people who take risks to bring their ideas to the marketplace, and sometimes win big. From my perspective, the entrepreneur is the unsung hero of our economy.
In the business world, the reason the entrepreneur is a different breed is that instinct often plays a crucial role in what an entrepreneur does and who he or she is. From conception – that “eureka” moment – businesses that evolve from bold risk taking frequently play by different rules than the typical organization.
Entrepreneurs are problem solvers. Entrepreneurs inhabit an almost mystical world of inspiration, innovation and the subconscious. They are people in touch with their “inner child.” Like children, entrepreneurs can be impulsive, uninhibited and relentlessly experimental. These qualities aren’t exactly rampant in mainstream business.
For inspiration, I love to read about entrepreneurs. For example, Eli Whitney got the idea for the cotton gin by watching a fox try to raid his chicken coop. The fox couldn’t get in the coop, but it managed to get most of the feathers from his prey through the mesh. Whitney then began experimenting with a claw or rake to pull cotton fibers through a grid and leave the seeds behind.
Nolan Bushnell was always interested in electronics going back to his days as a ham radio operator when he was just 10 years old. The video game craze began with his invention of Pong in the early 1970s, and he went on to found Atari when he was only 29.
Nina Blanchard, like many entrepreneurs, failed in business and went bankrupt as the owner of a franchised modeling school. She invested her last $300 in a Los Angeles modelling agency, thinking many of the models her school trained needed work. Photographers began calling her immediately but fearing that her models weren’t ready for prime time yet, she announced they were unavailable. Word spread around town that the Blanchard Agency’s models were always booked, which attracted other models who wanted to be represented by the hottest agency in town.
Jack Newton Daniel was seven years old, living in a small Tennessee town when he was offered a job as a houseboy for a Lutheran minister who was also a merchant, farmer and whiskey distiller. Jack was interested in learning the mysteries of making moonshine and sour mash. When his boss’s congregation pressured him to choose between the pulpit and his business, he offered his now 13-year-old apprentice the opportunity to buy his distillery on credit. In 1960, Jack Daniel bought the whiskey business that bears his name.
W.E. Boeing was a timber trader who was also a hobbyist aviator. He got into the business of making airplanes when his own plane broke down, and he couldn’t get replacement parts. Since business was slow at first, his company also manufactured furniture and speedboats.
Whitney Wolfe Herd flipped traditional dating dynamics by letting women make the first move when she created Bumble in 2004. Within one year, the app had reached over 15 million conversations and 80 million matches. She became the world’s youngest female self-made billionaire and the youngest female CEO to ever take a company public in the U.S.
Wolfe Herd dethroned Katrina Lake as the youngest woman to take a company public. Lake founded Stitch Fix in 2011 before taking it public in 2017. Stitch Fix is an online shopping company that leverages data science and human stylists to pick out personalized outfits for busy working women as well as fashion options for all ages.
My own story pales in comparison to these superstars, but after more than 60 years in business, I’m quite satisfied that the leap of faith I took was worth it. Sure, there are a few things I would do differently. But I would never give up my resolve to make it work.
Mackay’s Moral: The first step to getting anywhere is deciding you are no longer willing to stay where you are.