Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Bill Gates don’t just have the billions in their bank accounts in common – these three successful people all embarked on a path that many consider every day. They are just three of the almost 600 million entrepreneurs in the world, but how, why and what are they doing exactly? This question lies at the heart of what is entrepreneurship, that we answer below.
Entrepreneurship, according to experts, involves creating, building and scaling one or more businesses to generate a profit. But there’s a lot more to the concept of entrepreneurship as the likes of Bezos, Musk and Gates have demonstrated. For some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship is also about changing the world through solving problems.
The most famous, wealthiest and most impactful entrepreneurs are initiators of social change, like Patrice Motsepe and Oprah Winfrey, creators of innovative products like Richard Branson or architects of life-changing solutions like Elon Musk.
Entrepreneurship isn’t just about escaping an eight-to-five job, a horrible boss, inflexible hours or earning creative and financial freedom. Entrepreneurship involves creating a life and career built on your own terms and trying to make the world around you better for you and everyone else.
What Is Entrepreneurship: A Definition
The definition of an entrepreneur is both basic and broad. But in order to understand the value of entrepreneurship to the world, entrepreneurs’ contributions need to be defined and recognised. While an entrepreneur’s aim for starting a business may be to make money, the methods in which an entrepreneur chooses to generate profit vary depending on which avenue they decide to take.
If you start out as a full-time employee with a side hustle, your business could grow to the point where you quit your job and become a fully-fledged business-owner. The distance between these two points doesn’t change the definition of what an entrepreneur is. You’re an entrepreneur at both stages of your business lifecycle, even if your entrepreneurial venture remains a side hustle.
The key trait of an entrepreneur is that they see the world differently and put no limit to their imagination. That’s how Microsoft, Amazon, Tesla and Virgin were born. It took bold dreamers who innovated their way to changing the world and in just a few short years communication, transportation and even human location has changed. Elon Musk is sending people to inhabit Mars while Bill Gates and Steve Jobs made it possible for computers to become part of every household and in the palm of our hands.
What Is Entrepreneurship: Key Characteristics of Entrepreneurs
Entrepreneurship is experienced differently by different people, so we found out what defines an entrepreneur for some of the most celebrated entrepreneurs in South Africa and the world:
Entrepreneurship is thinking differently
“It’s no secret that we need to create more jobs in South Africa, and entrepreneurship is one of the keys to unlocking the creation of these jobs. What I have realised is; big business drives efficiency. Entrepreneurs don’t wake up in the morning thinking ‘I’m going to create jobs today’, instead they are driven by the idea of ‘I’m going to destroy jobs today’. And in that, they create jobs.” – Adrian Gore, CEO, and founder of Discovery Holdings.
Entrepreneurship is going off the beaten track
“I’ve had opportunities to work in the corporate world, but I’ve chosen not to at this point. I believe I can have far more impact creating jobs, helping women advance, and making a difference to society as an entrepreneur.” – Khanyi Dhlomo, founder of the 100% black-owned media company, Ndalo Media.
Entrepreneurship is a challenge, but not insurmountable
“Nobody talks about entrepreneurship as a survival, but that’s exactly what it is and what nurtures creative thinking. Running that first shop taught me business is not financial science; it’s about trading: Buying and selling.” – Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop.
Entrepreneurship is problem-solving
“Start something that matters! Until you can identify a problem you are passionate about addressing, you have no business starting a business.” – Katleho Tsoku, CEO of Spark* South Africa.
Entrepreneurship is about the details
“When you think of starting a company, you can’t do a me-too company. Really understand what you’re doing that nobody else is doing. Care about the details.” – Jessica Alba, CEO of The Honest Company.
Why Is Entrepreneurship Important?
Across the globe, and especially in South Africa, entrepreneurs and small businesses are being tasked with the massive responsibility of reviving the economy and creating millions of new jobs. Entrepreneurship is important because as the entrepreneurial ecosystem improves, the environment becomes more conducive for businesses to grow and thrive.
Not only does entrepreneurship have a role to play in job creation, entrepreneurship serves as an incubator of innovation. Experts attribute leapfrog innovation, research, and development to entrepreneurship. Therefore, entrepreneurship nurtures innovation enabling the creation of new ventures, products, and technologies to the economy that increases GDP and the country’s standard of living.
Why Consider Entrepreneurship as a Career Path
Surely having a stable income and being able to pay your bills every month is far more valuable than risking it all to start (and succeed at) your own business? Probably not, because over 600 million people worldwide have ventured into entrepreneurship. But, what is entrepreneurship’s appeal? What’s the big deal?
Although every entrepreneur has a unique reason for abandoning the ‘normal’ way of earning a living and pursing a life of being their own boss and making a difference, the most common motives for becoming an entrepreneur include:
Making a meaningful impact
Ending world hunger, creating a game-changing product and exploring other planets have the golden thread of entrepreneurship running through them. The entrepreneurs who started some of the most successful businesses today aimed to make the world better with their ideas. Essentially, entrepreneurship is a means to build a brand in service of others. However, there are some entrepreneurs whose entrepreneurial goal is quick profit to fund their noble causes. These are social entrepreneurs, and for them creating a better world is the aim behind building their empire.
Sometimes being the boss is better than having one, especially when you struggle with restrictions, briefs and authority. Entrepreneurs often feel they’re being held back and could be doing things more effectively given the freedom to do so. Perhaps you feel your creativity is being stifled in your current position and feel you could be more successful on your own terms.
Besides being free within the work environment, entrepreneurs also prefer flexible working hours. Clocking in at 8am and leaving at 5pm is not conducive to them giving of their best. Many self-employed people are lifestyle entrepreneurs who need flexi-hours either because of family commitments or because they are studying part-time and need to balance their studies and full-time employment.
Due to certain restrictions, like a criminal record, or unfortunate events like retrenchment, some people become entrepreneurs by default, in order to make a living and continue to afford to pay their expenses. Creating new opportunities for yourself is also the answer to new graduates who are too inexperienced to fill available positions. Starting your own business could be the answer to your career struggles.
Being a corporate misfit
If you find yourself in a power struggle with your colleagues for their responsibilities and with a burning desire to understand their roles and how everything fits together with your current position, you may be in the wrong place. Not just the job. Experts have found that entrepreneurs don’t often thrive in corporate environments. Besides finding the atmosphere as a retardant to their growth, office politics and stifled creativity make for an unhappy entrepreneur masquerading as an employee.
What if you started a business? What would happen if…? That’s the question a lot of entrepreneurs are seeking the answer to. And if you’re not finding it at your workspace and growing more curious for the answer, your next move should probably be an entrepreneurial venture. Remember, your curiosity can still be satisfied by a side hustle so don’t run into entrepreneurship head-on. Continue to experiment and learn more to advance your knowledge, because the more you do the more you learn, and the more you grow.
An entrepreneur’s earning potential is limited by only themselves. When you overcome a challenge or achieve an arduous goal, you find yourself continuously growing and achieving more. And it’s not just for a raise, a bonus or promotion. It’s for your own personal growth and the biggest impact is on your business’s bottom line, an entrepreneur will often work harder to achieve more. With a clear goal for their business in mind, they’re more encouraged to navigate challenges.
Related: Business Plan Format Guide
Examples of Successful Entrepreneurship in Action
There are numerous success stories of ordinary people who decided they didn’t want to live an average life, choosing to build their careers instead of being hired to use their skills to build someone else’s vision. Some used their influence and instinct to seize opportunities that no one else saw, while others didn’t allow lack of funding and experience get in the way of building their empires.
Entrepreneur Basetsana Kumalo
When Basetsana Kumalo was crowned Miss South Africa in the early 90s, her life completely transformed. But she wanted to be more than a beauty queen, and after placing second in the Miss World competition that same year, she used this platform wisely. Kumalo made connections and cultivated a strong network to launch her professional career.
At only 20, while she was presenting on Top Billing, she negotiated the deal for the magazine TV show to become independent, because she believed the show should be doing better than it was. Her persistence paid off and she bought Top Billing from the SABC and through the deal she secured a 50% partnership in Top Billing’s production company, Tswelopele Productions.
Her current position is founder and CEO of Basetsana Woman Investment Holdings (Pty) Ltd, where she is focusing mainly in the resources, property, media, telecommunications and IT industries. Kumalo’s strategic advice for future female entrepreneurs is, “When you wake up each morning, you have to think of yourself as a brand and act accordingly, how well you do that will define the brand’s success. If you live the brand well, people start to believe in it and buy into it. Over the years, people have shown great confidence in the Bassie brand and that’s been really humbling.”
Entrepreneur Khanyi Dhlomo
Another media mogul who joined the industry as a 20-year-old is publisher Khanyi Dhlomo. She started her career in media when she became anchor of the SABC’s primetime evening news programme.
She soon moved from TV screens to magazines as the editor of women’s lifestyle magazine True Love, before launching her own publication titled Destiny. Today, Dhlomo is managing director of Ndalo Media, which she founded in collaboration with Media24. Ndalo Media, is the publisher of Destiny magazine, DestinyMAN, ELLE and ELLE Decoration South Africa. She also started digital platform destinyconnect.com.
“Failure is an opportunity to learn and to do better next time,” say Dhlomo on failure and success along her journey. “It’s part of the path to greatness, which was never meant to be smooth.”
In addition to her entrepreneurial ventures, Dhlomo is also an Independent Non-Executive Director on the board of The Foschini Group LTD.
Entrepreneur Albé Geldenhuys
Even though it sounds like an America product, USN was launched from Geldenhuys’ small flat in Pretoria, where he and his girlfriend mixed creatine formulations with a hand-cracked washing machine. While working at a gym, he had spotted a gap in the sports supplement market for good quality but affordable products. After some research on formulations he created his own product and sold it out of his car after his shift at the gym.
He then discovered that although there was a demand for sports supplements, most people weren’t actually sure how to use the products properly. “That was our in,” he says. “We started educating the market, adding meal plans to our packaging, and focusing on telling people how to use what, and what the results would be if our various products were used correctly.”
It’s taken him 15 years, but he’s built a business that has an international footprint and is worth over R1 billion.
Entrepreneur Max Lichaba
By the late 1990s Max was a 16-year-old high school dropout helping his mom sell fruit and vegetables on the side of the road. Instead of being defeated, he grabbed the opportunity that presented itself, when Harmony Gold opened a jewellery school to upskill the local community.
“I wasn’t satisfied with my Grade 10 qualification. I didn’t want to be a miner, and I wanted more than selling fruit and veg on the side of the road. I knew I was good with my hands, and I saw the jewellery school as an opportunity,” he says.
That decision would chart a rough course of becoming a business owner, losing his business and rebuilding Lichaba Creations to what it is today – a R120 million business.
“When I look back at my life, it was tough as a kid. There was so much pain and embarrassment. Kids laughed at me because I sold fruit and vegetables at the side of the road and went to a remedial school. I was driven to prove myself. I’m a human being and a man,” recalls Lichaba. “It’s my life, and only I can prove myself. I wouldn’t let my circumstances hold me back. I saw these things as challenges and obstacles I had to face, but also as opportunities. You need to look for opportunity. No one else will do that for you.”
Today Max runs Lichaba Creations alongside restaurant and carwash business Kwa Lichaba and Lichaba Custom Rides, a car customisation and sound business.
Entrepreneurship Tips For Start-Ups
Every big business was once a start-up. The most successful brands in the world started small and their founders have grown them steadily through experience and knowledge they’ve attained as they went along. Today they are profit-making empires changing the face of various aspects of our lives.
Here are some of the lessons the founders of some of the most profitable business have learnt on their journey to building markedly successful companies:
Stick it out when the going gets tough
“It’s hard… You’re sinking, your life sucks, and your business isn’t going anywhere. Oh yeah, and you’re not getting any younger, either. And just when you think about finally throwing in the towel and saying ‘‘f’ all this!’ that right there is the test that all founders are eventually faced with: When things get too hard, you decide to stay, or you decide to quit. My advice is this: Before you decide, look at all those great, successful businesses that inspired you to start your own. They stayed.” – Ben Chestnut, Founder of Mailchimp
What are you waiting for?
“If you’ve got an idea, start today. There’s no better time than now to get going. That doesn’t mean quit your job and jump into your idea 100% from day one, but there’s always small progress that can be made to start the movement.” – Kevin Systrom, Co-founder and CEO of Instagram
Set your eyes on success
“What do you need to start a business? Three simple things: Know your product better than anyone, know your customer, and have a burning desire to succeed.” – Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy’s
Find your passion, and fuel it
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” – Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc.
“I knew that if I failed, I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not trying.” – Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.
Entrepreneurship Quotes About Funding and Finance
A large number of start-ups fail – but what makes the difference between that majority and the ones that succeed is not just perseverance, but learning with every failure.
Many successful entrepreneurs believe that failure is the best teacher and that failing presents us with great learning opportunities. But the great thing about being an entrepreneur today is that so many others have come before you and also failed, and you don’t have to only learn from your errors but from their hurdles and how they overcame them as well.
Financial issues can sink your business before it even takes off, so it’s important to learn from investors, inventors and experts on your journey to becoming a successful entrepreneur. Drawing from other entrepreneurs’ experiences and decisions in certain situations can provide enrichment and awareness when approaching business and life challenges.
Sometimes barters are better
“You don’t always need money to acquire things – it’s often possible to use your resources and barter when you don’t have cash. Without funding, tenders or loans, I had made my first million at the age of 27. It’s a principle I still live by today.”
– Lebo Gunguluza, founder of The GEM Group
Gather your available resources
“I borrowed money from my parents and we found money wherever we could. I had also won some cash prizes and appearance money from Miss SA and I put that into the business. I remember the bank asking for collateral, which was a big word for a 21-year-old!”
– Basetsana Kumalo, founder of Basetsana Woman Investment Holdings
What is your (actual) bottom line?
“Never go into business purely to make money. If that’s the motive you’re better off doing nothing.”
– Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group
Ideas For Entrepreneurship
Start-up entrepreneurship has limitless options. All you need is an idea and you can build almost any type of business. From food, to gardens and online sales, you can monetise a variety of ideas if you want to get a business off the ground. Here are just a few ideas for becoming an entrepreneur:
Open an eCommerce store
The soaring popularity of online shopping has made it easier to launch your own store and start trading without laying a single brick. But, there’s still groundwork that goes into building a successful ecommerce shop. Don’t just decide to sell what you would buy, but research what consumers are interested in, and provide that need or want. Create your website yourself or hire a web designer before choosing a high-performing server, for smoother operation for customers.
Become a freelance writer
If you’re not keen on handling orders, but still want to work online, Search Engine Optimisation may be your way in. This new strategy is used to drive traffic to websites and articles. You need be a proficient writer as businesses are seeking to optimise their website content through SEO writers. As you build up your client base, you’re able to write at a suitable pace to help the business progressively gain traction.
Create an app
Developing apps has launched some of the most successful and popular entrepreneurial endeavours of our time, and now, thanks to enhanced technology, you can create your own app and cash in on your idea. Whether you’re connecting farmers to markets, domestic workers to homeowners or investors to start-ups, your business can be up and running in no time as you generate income by charging for the app, displaying in-app ads, or charging for in-app features and upgrades.
Start a service-based business
Are you an IT wiz? A master at crunching numbers? A grammar prefect? Or even a foodie with the heart of an entrepreneur? Rendering services for payment could have you raking in cash for racking up hours consulting, bookkeeping or copyediting on demand. If you’re more kitchen inclined, you could become a part-time caterer for small events on weekends or children’s birthday parties – or you could even have a food truck that only operates at weekend markets selling specialty convenience meals like tacos, mini doughnuts, candyfloss or lemonade.
Influencer marketing is making its mark in the age of social media. Companies are decreasing spend on big campaigns in favour of paying a fraction of the traditional marketing budget to influential individuals in society. You don’t necessarily need a massive amount of social media followers or page likes – micro-influencers also earn a decent income from lifestyle brands to use their products and share their experience online. This is low commitment in terms of time, but can be more lucrative as you gain a following and give brands the traction they require from your posts.
Become a blogger or a vlogger
People love hearing from other people, and brands know that. That’s why product reviews are so important. So many entrepreneurs started off filming DIY tutorials and hacks on a variety of topics, from beauty to cooking, and today they have TV shows, books and an ad-revenue drawing following. All you need is a YouTube account and topics people care about. You may not become an instant hit, but every view counts.
Tutor or teach online
Various countries across Europe and Asia are looking for teachers to tutor in English to second-language students. As a result; online teaching platforms offering people the opportunity to teach a second language online from anywhere in the world.
You can start off by enrolling for a TEFL Certificate course or applying online immediately if you’re an experienced English teacher.
Skills Needed for Successful Entrepreneurship
Your mind may be filled with brilliant ideas, but while you possess some skills needed to be an entrepreneur – like marketing, business development, customer service, leadership and execution, resilience and focus – who’s going to help you balance your books and ensure you’re no longer just breaking even when you should be making some profit already? Who will ensure you’re hiring the right people for the jobs you can’t do yourself everyday? And who’ll ensure you’re balancing your business and personal lives effectively?
Don’t be like the many entrepreneurs who care so much about a cause or profit goal that they let the small stuff fall through the cracks. Invest time – and some money – into acquiring these skills to succeed at being an entrepreneur:
Financial management skills
The start-up phase of your business is the most crucial when it comes to managing your finances. Profitability is important and it’s a sign your business is going according to plan and you’re well on your way to building a successful business. But, even profitable companies are in danger of bankruptcy if cash is managed poorly.
Ensure your cash is always enough to cover all your operating expenses, such as salaries, rent and utilities. Bolster your financial management skills by learning to cut unnecessary costs, pay careful attention to due dates, and religiously follow up on invoices. You need a proper understanding of your business’s finances from the first day you set up shop.
Delegate the financial management duties if you have to, but be financially literate enough to understand the fine print of the management accounts and company balance sheet. Without this basic business skill, you may be in for a shock down the line when you realise your business lacks the financial foundations for the future.
Recruitment and HR skills
For your company to become scalable, you need to start capitalising on forming, cultivating and maintaining relationships with employees, vendors and other resources that will help you get there. Do you know where to meet the right people to grow your network and tap into it when looking to hire new staff or seeking a more affordable supplier?
It all comes down to investing time in people. For example, when it comes to your employees, how are you demonstrating that they are your company’s greatest asset? While you may not be an HR expert, get involved in recruitment where you can, and foster a culture that motivates, develops and retains your staff. Contrary to what some business owners may think, employment engagement should be high on your list of priorities because getting it right will help your business attract and keep the best people in your industry.
You may not have the kind of personality that commands attention or engages everyone you meet, but communication is an essential skill that you need to master as it applies to every area of entrepreneurship.
Communication skills are probably what got you the funding you needed to get your business off the ground. Your partners depend on communication to know how the business is doing if strategies need to be refined. Clients and customers need to be sold on the idea that they need your product – you need to communicate to them effectively, to choose your product over your competitor’s.
Your employees need you to communicate the company’s goals, objectives and their role in achieving these. Communication is how you establish direction within your business and when done effectively, helps you delegate responsibilities. Establish solid channels of communication with all your stakeholders by simply speaking to them. Whether it’s an email, a telephone call or a thank-you note, constant communication keeps all your relationships strong and mutually beneficial. Creating cross-communication channels within your organisation also helps minimise potential hiccups.
Do your colleagues and staff have a good idea of what the future of the business looks like? An effective leader paints this picture for everyone in the company to understand what needs to be done to achieve the business’s potential. The first leadership skill to strive towards acquiring is creating the time and imagination for strategic future planning and ambitious target-setting for growth.
Once you’ve achieved this, ensure your vision is shared clearly with everyone in the business in a motivational way. Next, while your staff is still fired up, give them the reins in some aspects of achieving your business goals. Empowering staff through delegation and skills development enables you to dedicate more time to focus on leadership. Good leaders don’t spend their days managing day-to-day operations, but are able to take a step back from their businesses and to plan for the future.
Time management skills
Some of the most successful entrepreneurs start their day as much as three hours earlier than the rest of us. Why? Getting a head start on the day allows you to draw up a to-do list and plan your day around implementing each task within the hours you have each day.
This is where delegation comes in. As previously mentioned, you simply cannot do everything on your own, as much as you’d like to. You can try, but that would be counterproductive. To become a successful entrepreneur, you need to manage you time effectively, and to do that, you need to create space on your plate to handle what only you can and share the rest among your workforce. You may even find that there are people you’ve hired that can complete some tasks better and faster than you.
Drive and dedication are good traits to have while building your business, but not when they’re stopping you from taking time away from your company to recharge and return even more driven and determined. Knowing when to take time off is considered one of the best time management skills to conquer as an entrepreneur.
If you feel like you’ve hit a wall, that’s probably a signal that you need a break. It doesn’t even need to be a day off. A simple walk for fresh air, an hour at the gym, coffee with a colleague or some alone time away from your office can make a world of difference to how you handle your day and the tasks that lie ahead.