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What Makes an Entrepreneur?

Why is it that so few of us in society are entrepreneurs?

Is it fear?  Is it comfort with the status quo?

A lot of it, I think, is cultural.  Not so much on a macro level (although that matters) but also on a micro level - your immediate family.  When I was growing up, my father would give me small ways to be entrepreneurial by saying things like "boy, I bet those construction workers must be thirsty", which led to me selling sodas out of a wheelbarrow in my neighborhood, as it was being built.  Those little nudges made all the difference to me, because I grew up trying small businesses, failing at some of them, and succeeding at others.   I sold candy bars on my school bus, I sold parking spaces at my school, I sold frisbees at U.Va., etc. etc.  My younger brother, Sam Odio, is also very entrepreneurial, and I think it was my dad's influence that got him thinking as an entrepreneur as well.

So if any of us can be "taught" to be entrepreneurs, why don't more of us do it?

I think that for many people it's a combination of a fear + life balance issue.  An entrepreneur must treat his business like a child, protecting it from all things bad and coaxing it into growth.  That takes a lot of time and energy, and if you have a spouse and/or children, they definitely need to be very, very understanding.   Very understanding.  Did I mention how understanding they must be?  Yes it's that big of an issue.

Why is it that so few of us in society are entrepreneurs? Is it fear?  Is it comfort with the status quo? A lot of it, I think, is cultural.  Not so much on a macro level (although that matters) but also on a micro level - your immediate family.  When I was growing up, my father would give me small ways to be entrepreneurial by saying things like "boy, I bet those construction workers must be thirsty", which led to me selling sodas out of a wheelbarrow in my neighborhood, as it was being built.  Those little nudges made all the difference to me, because I grew up trying small businesses, failing at some of them, and succeeding at others.   I sold candy bars on my school bus, I sold parking spaces at my school, I sold frisbees at U.Va., etc. etc.  My younger brother, Sam Odio, is also very entrepreneurial, and I think it was my dad's influence that got him thinking as an entrepreneur as well. So if any of us can be "taught" to be entrepreneurs, why don't more of us do it? I think that for many people it's a combination of a fear + life balance issue.  An entrepreneur must treat his business like a child, protecting it from all things bad and coaxing it into growth.  That takes a lot of time and energy, and if you have a spouse and/or children, they definitely need to be very, very understanding.   Very understanding.  Did I mention how understanding they must be?  Yes it's that big of an issue. And yet, any of us pass tens or hundreds of chances by daily to be entrepreneurs - to solve a little problem that nags society.  here's a great story about Richard Branson: Carpé Diem We can all learn a lesson about recognizing opportunity and making the most of a "bad" situation, from Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airways.  His airline got its start partly because of a last minute flight cancellation.  When his flight to Puerto Rico was cancelled at the last minute, he found a company he could charter a jet from for $2000.  Figuring the cost per seat in the jet, he borrowed a blackboard, wrote "Virgin Airlines, $39 single flight to Puerto Rico" and walked around the airport with it.  He filled every seat on the plane, and a new company was born! How often do we see only the "bad" side of a situation?  Being successful in life and in your business requires that you seize the day.  Turn issues into opportunities and negative experiences into new positive processes! Adapted from The New Yorker, May 14, 2007 And yet how many of you would have done what Richard Branson did? Here's one way to put a little entrepreneurial spirit in you:  Think of your biggest pet peeve, and then think about how you would solve it.  For example, my pet peeve, for whatever absurd reason, is tables with uneven legs, which makes them rock back & forth.  I just find it highly irritating for some reason.  So, I could sell table chocks to restaurants.  See, a little entrepreneurial spirit right there.  Of course with that comes many other things to consider, namely among them whether other customers have the same need to have steady tables, but that's a discussion for another time.  For now, just try to notice all the entrepreneurial opportunities that pass by you ever day, and consider how you might solve them.

Litmus Test: Can You Be an Entrepreneur?

I get people all the time who tell me they'd like to be entrepreneurs.  Often they have this wistful look in their eyes, as if to say "I would but..." and the "but" is often the list of obligations that is keeping them from doing it.  Family.  Mortgage.  Kids.  Job. Etc.

I've devised a litmus test to help those people, and anyone else, figure out if they really do have what it takes to be an entrepreneur.  It's easy, costs $100 or less, and you can do it in one afternoon.  Think of it as being an entrepreneur with no strings attached; no long-term obligations.  You'll find after this experience that you're hooked and you love it, and you want more of it, or that being an entrepreneur isn't for you.

So here's the litmus test:  Go to Costco (if you don't have a membership, a friend surely does) and buy one of their discount ticket packs.  You can find these for restaurants, museums, ski lift tickets, movie tickets, football games, golf courses, spas, and gyms.  Pick the one you're most familiar with.  Then, go out and sell them for more than you bought them for, and see how much margin you can make.  It's that easy.

In fact, it doesn't even really matter if you only make a few dollars doing this - it's the experience of buying the items at one price, then selling them for more, dealing with inventory, convincing people to buy what you have to sell, etc. that matters.

Here are a few examples & ways you could do it:

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