The best ideas are simple and they solve a problem. – Frances Valintine, CNZM.
Frances Valintine, Founder and CEO of The Mind Lab and Tech Futures Lab and recent inductee to the New Zealand Hall of Fame for Women Entrepreneurs / Te Whare Whakahōnore i ngā Rakahinonga Wāhine o Aotearoa, shares her thoughts on what being an entrepreneur is all about.
Did you think of yourself as an entrepreneur before you became one?
No! I still find it interesting how quickly others peg me as an entrepreneur.
But, I certainly fit all the characteristics of one. I’m happy to take high levels of risk, I understand impact and scale. I can see the direction trends are moving and that’s crucial, because if you get in front of the curve, you’ll benefit. My motivation has never been about financial success. It’s always been about making an impact that changes whole industries.
Can you learn to be an entrepreneur?
100% you can learn the behaviours of an entrepreneur. The one thing that’s hard for people is to develop an appetite for risk. All the other elements of evaluating businesses, seeing opportunities, understanding how to scale, reading business cases and spotting possibilities for expansion – you can learn all those things, they’re fairly formulaic. Once you’ve got those skills sorted, you need to know the sector – to understand the market space and competitor environment. The risk taking however is a very personal aspect and in part, circumstantial.
If you’re the main income earner or you’ve got children and dependencies, the chance you’ll take a risk is probably quite low. But as the kids get older or you get more equity behind you, your risk profile changes. What we do know is that entrepreneurs are most successful when they start a business in their 40s. Perhaps it’s their life stage and experience that means they can more easily understand what it takes to be an entrepreneur.
When I reflect on my own journey as a young entrepreneur, debt was something to avoid. So you do things grassroots style and you’re hustling all the time for a deal. It can be exhausting.
With maturity you start to realise that actually you can’t be everything. So learning how to find a degree of comfort with debt and, most importantly, how to leverage it is key. And perhaps more importantly is learning to take advice and to lean on others.
If you want to have a business, you need to have a team, both with you on the job but also as your support crew. And that team needs to be smarter than you.
Who are the three key people you call on to talk through your ideas with?
Whenever I have an idea, I tell as many people as I can. That’s because I find the best information comes from sharing with people – they’ll offer up things to think about or point me in the direction of someone who can help. It attracts the right people into the idea.
Many people want to be entrepreneurial but they want to protect their IP, so never share it for fear someone will steal their idea. I don’t think people steal ideas. It takes a lot of energy to breathe life into someone else’s idea.
I believe the best thing you can do is talk publicly about what you intend to do – on your social media, wherever you can. By telling people, you’re making it real. That sets an expectation with others that you’ll do it. So public commitment is a big thing for me.
But I don’t talk with the same people each time. I get my idea to a state that’s ready to talk through and I single out successful entrepreneurs – people who have been in the game longer than me that I can ask, ‘is this real?’. I’ve had some good candid conversations where people have said ‘yes, I think there’s a good idea in here, but perhaps you need to think about it this way’. It helps me to evolve my thinking and see more clearly how the idea could play out.
What is the one thing an entrepreneur should never stop doing?
Never stop dreaming.
For me, entrepreneurship is about keeping hold of big dreams and having the belief that there’s always a way to do it. It doesn’t mean you have to do everything, and it might shift and reform and evolve as you go. But if you can form a team and get momentum with those people around the idea, you’ll make it happen.
I will never stop having big ideas – there’s always going to be five more ideas ahead of me which I’d love to do. So keep those going, it’s a part of that drive, to keep doing things you love to do.
Refine your entrepreneurial skills
Have that entrepreneurial spirit but need some help building your capabilities to build a business?
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