Is there an entrepreneurial “Life Pattern?”

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It is clear that the entrepreneurial spirit is not limited to any one religion. Other attempts to characterize a typical entrepreneur can produce abject futility when considering the life stories of numerous entrepreneurs. P. T. Barnum did not found the Barnum & Bailey Circus until he was seventy years old. “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web” was started by two graduate students who wanted to keep track of their favorite websites. In just a few years their company, Yahoo!, had a $1.5 million IPO.
Famous Amos built his million-dollar cookie empire using a recipe from the back of the Nestlé’s chocolate bag available to every baker and housewife in the nation. Sandra Lee, who risked everything on home-show demonstrations, finally got her own accessories line and a Food Network cooking show. Frederick Tudor made a fortune by selling the free ice from ponds and lakes around his home. A dentist, Dr. Thomas B. Welch, an ardent opponent of “demon rum,” created a nonalcoholic beverage that tasted like wine for use in Communion.
Hall of Fame pitcher Albert Spalding is better known today for the special baseball glove he designed and produced. Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, a Seventh-Day Adventist who ran a health sanitarium, provided specialized cereal products for his patients in Battle Creek, Michigan. It was there that a sick cowboy who had lost his fortune in real estate scams, C. W. Post, got the idea for his own cereal company that would later compete with Kellogg’s company.
Many entrepreneurs grew up impoverished. Andrew Carnegie went from a “bobbin boy,” a child laborer in a textile mill, to one of the richest men to ever live in the United States. By contrast, J. P. Morgan sampled all the luxuries of his era in his youth, and his successful father arranged for his first job. He, too, amassed one of the largest fortunes in the history of the United States.
Some families even have a tradition of entrepreneurship. John W. Nordstrom started a Seattle shoe store in 1902 after his adventures in the Klondike gold mines. His three sons expanded the operation into the country’s largest independently owned shoe store chain. The next generation, John, Jim, and Bruce Nordstrom, took the company public as one of the most successful and admired clothing and shoe stores anywhere.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about these individuals, and thousands of other entrepreneurs, is that they have no life pattern. The old, the young, the idealistic, the pragmatic, the inventors, the innovators, the driven, the greedy, the compassionate, all characterize different entrepreneurs. Every successful entrepreneur, however, does have one characteristic in common with the others. The entrepreneur has faith and vision, in essence a driving motivation that infuses the individual’s commitment to at least one idea or product, and often more. For the true entrepreneur, challenges represent opportunities.
Indeed, it seems that entrepreneurs do not even see challenges in the same way others do. Consciously or subconsciously, entrepreneurs diminish the size of the hurdle to be cleared, or possibly some of them do not even perceive obstacles as existing at all. If anything, the traditional juxtaposition of the “glass half full” and the “glass half empty” does not apply to entrepreneurs at all, because to them, the half-full glass is already full.
Entrepreneurs do recognize serious threats to their concepts or businesses, but they seem to have an innate ability to separate genuine from perceived threats, which leads them to focus always on the most important issues. In turn, they pay little attention to competitors, especially in the early stages of their businesses. Most entrepreneurs concentrate so intently on their own product, idea, or operations that they have no time to worry about the actions of competitors. At some point, virtually every successful person, and certainly every entrepreneur, has been told “You can’t,” “It won’t work,” or “There are enough of those already.”
If Arnold Schwarzenegger had listened to critics who said that he could never succeed in acting with his accent, some of the biggest box-office hits in the world never would have been made. If Louis L’Amour had heeded any of the first 100 rejection letters he received, he never would have become the best-read novelist of all time of classic Western stories. And if a fourteen-year-old from Tennessee, United States named Jack Daniels had listened to his neighbors who insisted he be satisfied with the local moonshining, one of the best-known names in whiskey never would have existed.
While those people had persistence and determination, more than just hard work or a good idea is required to achieve success. A structural foundation must exist that ensures human liberty and a society based on law. Such notions as property protections, contract enforcement, copyrights, and other mainstays of free capitalist societies made it possible for Schwarzenegger, Daniels, and virtually all of the other entrepreneurs discussed above to take advantage of their own talents and abilities.