The truckers’ saying goes, “Keep on trucking.” So if truckers truck, teachers teach, and dancers dance . . . ad infinitum. . . then why don’t entrepreneurs entrepreneur?
Why isn’t there a word for what entrepreneurs do?
There are plenty of descriptors, but a collection of traits and typical behaviours just doesn’t sum it up in a succinct, convenient, and instantly meaningful word.
I like the idea of verbifying “entrepreneur”. Here’s why:
There’s a common misperception, especially for non-entrepreneurs, that entrepreneurship involves starting up a new venture. After this, the “entrepreneur” label fades, to be replaced by “business owner”.
If that’s true, then I wonder: what moment in the business life cycle marks this transition?
I think the question is moot. I think every small business owner is, by virtue of the business staying in business, an entrepreneur. It’s not just about starting-up. I don’t deny that starting up is really hard, but compared with staying in business, the start-up phase is usually a walk in the park.
A quick story by Robert Gale, a serial entrepreneur since his teens, exemplifies the concept of ongoing entrepreneurialism. Here’s his inspiring mini case study describing 3 key transitions that kept one of his businesses going:
After buying a bottled water distribution business, sales were being squeezed out by the big players. Coke and Pepsi were locking retailers into exclusive supply of their own bottled water as a condition to sell their fizzy drinks.
In response, Robert switched to 5-gallon water sales – picture those giant inverted jugs perched on water coolers. To compete against another international company dominating that niche market, they introduced jugs with built-in handles and more-secure caps. It was a game-changer. At risk of being out-competed, the big international competitor introduced its own handled jugs.
So Robert changed focus again. They switched from retail to the wholesale supply to retail outlets like chain retailers, petrol stations, and hardware shops.
Being a commodity product, price was the critical success factor in breaking into and keeping clients. Hence, he re-designed the business around various cost-saving features, for example:
- Customers used their own fork lifts or labour to offload their palettes and reload the returned empties, which cut down on delivery times and labour costs.
- They didn’t need branded supply trucks like other bottle suppliers.
- They sold in bulk only, not single units, so contracting, billing and collections costs were much lower per transaction compared with micro sales.
Having the lowest price point in the market, the only way the big guys could stay in that niche was to buy him out. Naturally, to eliminate competition, the buyer was willing to pay much more than the nominal value of the business.
At the risk of confirmation bias, I believe entrepreneurship is about the whole business life-cycle. If entrepreneurs don’t entrepreneur beyond the start-up phase, then we are merely self-employed.
In other words, if we’re not entrepreneuring, we’re not building an asset for a generous pay-out when we exit.
So, what do you think – can “entrepreneur” be both a noun and a verb?