“When you Reach the End of your Rope, Tie a Knot and Hang On” – Opportunity Knocks, Part Three.
“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” ~ Calvin Coolidge
Parts One and Two of this story have illustrated some essential ingredients of entrepreneurial success.
Part One illustrated how an entrepreneur recognises, seizes and exploits the opportunity when it comes knocking. That took me one day.
Part Two demonstrated that realising the opportunity requires application and luck, as well as a desire to innovate and re-engineer. That took me ten years.
But there is a third, almost always vital, set of ingredients required for entrepreneurial success – the tenacity, stamina and stubborn self-belief to keep going. For example, it took a further ten years (and a roller coaster ride) for my game changer to deliver the success hoped for.
Just to be completely clear – that’s ten years in addition to the ten years it took to establish the business properly (realise the opportunity). Rags to riches very rarely happens quickly. It is almost always stamina sappingly slow.
My game changer was in 1994 and it was the Internet – or rather the realisation that the service (and the business) would be transformed if (a) the conveyancer was able to directly input the instruction into our workflow; and (b) the local authority could receive and process the search request electronically. So we built the first online search service and ultimately transformed our business and the whole industry. The only problem was that hardly any lawyers had heard of the Internet back then…having the first web site in the UK legal industry could be viewed as a pretty empty boast.
I have been thinking a lot about this recently. About whether being temporally so far ahead of your customer’s perception of what they require is a good thing or a bad thing.
For years I thought it was bad a thing. This was because it cost us financially to the extent that I nearly bust the company being so damn clever. For six years we couldn’t get any conveyancers or local authorities interested. When the customer’s finally caught up with us in sufficient numbers in 2000 we were technically insolvent and had to sell 75% of our business to our developer to build the necessary new version to survive. Worse still I ended up having to compete to pay for a license (from NLIS) to do what I had been perfectly capable of doing for many years. Some may have given up but the very same circumstances that gave rise to this low point also triggered the long awaited transformative game-changing.
“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up.” ~ Thomas A. Edison
Looking back, with the benefit of hindsight, the fact that we were so far ahead of our customers can be seen as a good thing – albeit costly. Once conveyancers and local authorities began to catch on to the benefits of online search provision we were so ready to surf that wave. We were able to grab the lion’s share of the market before (a) the other search companies realised they needed to go online, and (b) the other NLIS channels could really learn how to provide a search service.
So what triggered success for our game changer (our “sub-opportunity” as I termed it in Part Two) was twofold – NLIS and the increasing acceptance of on-line services in the workplace. But while that was the trigger it wasn’t the reason. The reason why we were successful was that we had a game changer and we hung in there with it – we were persistent. Recognising and realising the opportunity established the platform from which the game-changer (“sub-opportunity”) emerged. But it was persistence that made the difference between success and failure.
I thought I would finish this three part story with a summary of what I believe are the ingredients of successful entrepreneurship:
- A contagious enthusiasm on the part of the entrepreneur for the opportunity. This is what creates the team’s commitment (below) to the opportunity;
- A team of people who are committed to the opportunity, capable of achieving it and have the necessary cohesion as a team (all the “c’s”);
- Persistence and tenacity- the entrepreneur having the stamina and willpower to stay with the vision through thick and thin;
- Flexibility- the entrepreneur being prepared to re-evaluate and re-jig the plan when things don’t work out as planned. Clearly there is a balance to be struck between persistence and flexibility;
- “Skin in the game” – the entrepreneur, and all members of the team essential to the successful realisation of the opportunity, must be willing to invest enough of their own money into this project to convince others that they are materially committed;
- Application- the entrepreneur and their team being prepared to acquire any knowledge and skills necessary to realise the opportunity. No team knows in advance everything they need to know to turn the opportunity into a successful business; and
- Knowledge – there needs to be sufficient market experience and insight in the industry where the opportunity occurs.
The “X” factor is luck.
“Be prepared, work hard, and hope for a little luck. Recognise that the harder you work and the better prepared you are, the more luck you might have.” ~ Ed Bradley