News & Expert Interviews

Monday, August 13, 2007

André Taylor: Entrepreneur Coach

entrepreneur coach Andre TaylorEntrepreneur coach, André Taylor is a speaker, advisor, and author on the topic of entrepreneurship. For more than 20 years, he has helped build companies into industry leaders.

1) You’ve come up with the phrase “Natural Entrepreneur.” What are the core elements of a “natural entrepreneur”?
I believe at its core, entrepreneurship is about

turning personal benefits – talent, insight, and creativity – into a collective benefit for all. However, we must see our natural benefits. Being an entrepreneur should and can be an extraordinary experience. It’s personal expression unlike any other. Once you become more imaginative about your own possibilities, you’ll find that you can touch countless others through your work and dedication to your business.

The myth is that a select few can start and run a company successfully. Some believe either you have it or you don’t. I used to believe that until I met hundreds of “regular” people who started their own businesses with fabulous results. In the past we wouldn’t consider these individuals entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs were “visionaries,” and sometimes romantically reckless.

The good news is that all of the dialogue about entrepreneurship over the last twenty years has debunked the myth that individuals with the entrepreneur “gene” are rare. There are many more people out there who now know they have the ability to create businesses. They just need information, belief, courage, skill, and determination. The natural entrepreneur concept is simply this: We have natural skills, abilities, and instincts that translate into the key needs of the marketplace and into what is needed in a business. I work with individuals and organizations to pinpoint these strengths and turn them into economic assets.

2) Is there a basic skill set that successful entrepreneurs share? Or does it depend on the industry or idea?
I think the main thing that successful entrepreneurs have is the ability to deal with the ambiguity that surfaces, and then remains a permanent part of building an enterprise around their passion. No matter how long you are in business, whether you start with no money, or tons of money you are never quite sure day-to-day whether you are standing still or advancing.

In my view an entrepreneur must:

  1. Identify positive and encouraging information – all the time.
  2. Be a learner with the capacity to interpret and digest lessons from business situations – sometimes very painful lessons.
  3. Be demanding, yet patient – mainly with yourself.
  4. Interpret failure differently than most – yet expect success.
  5. See entrepreneurship as a better choice, something that you’re committed to because you’re focused on making a clear contribution to the marketplace or world – not approach your business as something to merely “try out.”

3) What are the most common mistakes you see entrepreneurs making?
While most entrepreneurs start out excited about the opportunities with their new enterprises, many entrepreneurs wind up in difficult places with their business. Soon after they get their business going they feel:
  • Overworked and a slave to their clients and employees.
  • Like they’re trying to do everything for everyone.
  • Like workaholics and micro-managers, some suffering health problems.
  • Like they’ve developed a business that is at odds with their real goals and abilities.
  • Like they need to focus on a small part of the business out of necessity, rather than the big picture.
I believe these mistakes come from not asking the right questions when the business is started. I’m talking about questions such as:
  • “What do I really love to do?”
  • “How do my talents and abilities translate into business success?”
  • “What do I never want to do?”

These questions seem obvious but most people starting a business are not thinking that the first phase of their development is to get themselves in the right chair. They simply see a zillion different things that have to get done and they get to work. Once they become conditioned to this approach they may never see that it is their relentless dedication and resourcefulness that is robbing their business of its potential or killing it entirely.

4) Is it enough to “do what you love, and the money will follow,” as the old saying goes? Can you do so, and fail?
There are many people out there “doing what they love” and they’re broke. Doing what you love is a key component of the success formula but I would put it another way. Entrepreneurship is doing what is necessary so that you can put yourself in a position to do what you love. To me, it is this understanding which creates “the soul of a successful enterprise.”

I believe, when it’s all said and done, it’s the way you think, and in particular it’s your emotions – how you engage, balance, and mobilize your feelings, which in turn, inform your actions – that will have more to do with your success than anything else. There’s money, customers, and the right employees for those who will confidently move ahead, take careful steps, and think through their moves, with the guidance of capable advisors. But every action from the spark of the idea, through the start-up and growth stages has to be about getting people in the right chairs – particularly the founder.

5) Many entrepreneurs eschew business plans, as ideas and markets tend to change quickly, and flexibility is one of their greatest assets against larger competitors. Is this the right move, or a dangerous one?
I believe emphasis on the textbook business planning process is one of the worst things to happen to entrepreneurial education. It’s great for companies seeking rapid growth or with an infusion of venture capital but that’s not the typical entrepreneurial experience. Most entrepreneurs do not need to spend months trying to write the perfect plan.

Having said that I am entirely convinced that if an entrepreneur does not think ahead, figure out how he or she will fund, source, market, sell, deliver, and profit from the company’s offerings, the business is doomed to fail.

I favor a “living plan,” approach – something the entrepreneur can carry around in their pocket or PDA reflecting the business agenda, answers to key questions typically addressed in a business plan, and key metrics. I think this document has to be streamlined so the founder understands it and can work with it as a tool. I believe this document is something that should be adjusted weekly or monthly.

Entrepreneurs need to plan, but it has to be incorporated in their day-to-day activities and adjusted, adjusted, and adjusted.

6) One of your insights is that “Success Is Natural. Failure Is Hard Work.” Can you elaborate on that, with an example?
This statement probably sounds very new age, but I have found that many entrepreneurs, including myself, make things entirely too difficult and complicated. There are usually great business development opportunities staring you in the face, but we are conditioned to look away, misinterpret, or not respond appropriately – or at all.

I recently had a situation that makes this point. I was in discussion with a firm about presenting a series of workshops for their company during an executive retreat. The last conversation I had with my contact there, she mentioned that she would be in New York for a few days, combining a business trip with a family holiday. She was going to be bringing her elderly dad to New York City for the first time.

When I got off the telephone I had a thought. It was this: “I’ll bet they’re going to see a Broadway show. It might even be The Color Purple – a show where a friend of mine is one of the principal cast members. I could ask my friend to invite her backstage, autograph her program, and she could meet some of the other cast members.” For some reason, I dismissed the thought, and never came back to it.

Yesterday I called my contact to see how our deal was progressing and how her holiday in New York was. She said: “I was very busy during the day, but we had a wonderful time every evening. My dad especially loved seeing The Color Purple.” I then explained: “I coulda, shoulda, blah, blah, blah.”

My instincts told me exactly what to do for my client but I didn’t listen. Success would have been showing my client a great time. That was easy. I knew how to do it. The opportunity was delivered to me on a silver platter. I failed at that and now I’m trying to make up for it.

There are tons of examples like this in business every day. Companies market like crazy, but don’t return telephone calls. Publishers destroy books that could help educate people in poor neighborhoods and entire countries. Employees are not given the latitude to do something extra and creative for clients because companies adhere to alienating policies and procedures. There are hundreds, if not thousands of opportunities that naturally present themselves to us daily to become more successful. I believe our biggest challenge is seeing it and having the will to act on it.

7) There’s a meme now about working “smart instead of hard”. Can you avoid hard work and be successful as an entrepreneur?
You cannot avoid hard work for long and be a successful entrepreneur. There are some entrepreneurs that hit the market just right and they do well. An example might be here in New York, during the hot summer, we have entrepreneurs who buy cases of water, make the bottles ice cold, and then sell them to drivers stopped at red lights. That’s smart and involves a bit of hard work as well. During the record heat this summer these guys did really well. But the moment well-financed and better competition rolls in or the process is banned by the city these entrepreneurs are out of business. To keep the business going they’re going to need to work smart and hard. They’re going to need alternative strategies and a whole new effort to get to market.

It gets back to the Natural Entrepreneur concept. It was natural for J. Darius Bikoff to pop a vitamin and down a bottle of cold water after exercising. It occurred to him that he could mix the two as an energy drink and market it as a product. That was smart. In fact one of the brands he created is called “Smart Water,” but it took hard work to sell it door to door until he got the company off the ground.

Now we know the rest of the story. A few months ago Coca-Cola agreed to buy the company Bikoff founded in a $4.1 billion deal. In my book that’s some smart water, and the ultimate example of succeeding naturally.

Related Articles:
Entrepreneurs and Loneliness by André Taylor
The Secret to Becoming a Great Entrepreneur by Laurie Hayes
Qualities of a Successful Entrepreneur by Susan Martin

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