For Entrepreneurs Starting with Nothing, Here’s the Ultimate Strategy
Hiroshi Tasaka is talking so fast it makes my head whirl. I wonder to myself, Can even Japanese listeners follow him?
Tasaka, a Tokyo-based Tama University professor, writer, and investor with a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering, just served on a panel of judges critiquing a series of presentations by aspiring social entrepreneurs. Now he’s sharing his thoughts with a rapt audience.
“I always thought that strategy was essential to the success of a new business,” Tasaka remarks, “but after watching these presentations, it struck me that the personality and character of the founder of the business is in fact more important than the strategy itself.”
My takeaway? Personality is the ultimate strategy.
This insight can help new entrepreneurs in two crucial ways.
First, as discussed in our primer, scarcity defines entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is all about making things happen with limited resources.
So when an entrepreneur lacks money, staff, and other assets, what’s left to attract partners, investors, and customers?
The founder’s personality is what garners support, attracts coworkers, and creates the atmosphere of the organization, says Tasaka. Ultimately, what besides personality can be the foundation for management? For the company itself?
But there’s a second reason why personality is the ultimate strategy for entrepreneurs, whether they have money or not.
Ventures often fail because they are incompatible with the founder’s personality.
In other words, personality as strategy means not changing yourself, but rather focusing on endeavors that jibe with who you are.
Referring to late 1990s and early 2000 Internet ventures, Tasaka said:
They started with market analyses such as those that might be prepared by a consultant, then built ‘business plans’ around a competitive analysis. Typically the conclusion was something like ‘no one is in this space now, so if we get in immediately, we won’t have any competition. We can expect annual growth of 65%, a market size of $800 million three years from now, and revenues and earnings of $400 million and $80 million, respectively’.
This kind of planning and forecasting cannot, in and of itself, lead a venture to success, Tasaka emphasized. People, not plans, drive a business forward. It’s impossible to create a successful venture without a founder who inspires those around her to think, ‘this is someone I can get behind.’ A personality compatible with the paper business plan creates the most powerful combination. But if the founder’s character is incompatible with the plan, and she tries to force the execution of a logical plan on a ‘stand-alone’ basis, the inconsistencies are bound to turn up—as failure—sooner or later.
As investors around the world have put it, “I invest in people, not in companies or ideas.”
So for entrepreneurs who have nothing—and for those who have everything—here’s some food for thought:
Personality is the ultimate strategy.
(I attended Professor Tasaka’s lecture in 2002 and offered these thoughts in a different form that year in Japan Entrepreneur Report.)
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