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What entrepreneurs do: making something out of nothing

Making something out of nothing is an art. People all over the world do it every day, and often a lack of something is the critical factor in creating new ways of doing things. I worked in Japan for four years – the Japanese are the most disciplined people I have ever met (and I'm half-Japanese), but creativity isn't their strong suit. On the other hand, South Africa, where I live now, is amazingly creative, and the people often have little. Necessity is often a driver for creating businesses.


Here are four insights on how entrepreneurs create something out of nothing:


Finding new ideas. Ask any entrepreneur who has been in business for a while, “How did you come up with the idea to do your business?” It's rarely the gorgeous beach break or innovation workshop that spawn brilliant ideas. Normally it's ordinary things, like a walk in the park, taking a bath, or talking to a friend. Customers are a great source of ideas. They often see you and your business better than you can. Suppliers are also often an unexpected resource, because they see related businesses and can spot opportunities. But you need space for ideas. A schedule crammed with back to back meetings isn't conducive to finding good business ideas. Free yourself up and give space for things to percolate.


Knowing when it's an opportunity. I did an informal poll amongst my staff: how many had an opportunity offered to them during the past week? We went around the room, and what we found was that many people didn't know what an opportunity was when it came. Also, they tended to react too slowly. We need to move fast and decide: is this right for me or not? Everyone can have entrepreneurial thinking, but it's the acting on it that makes an entrepreneur. How many opportunities have you been presented with that you didn't see?


Look to see who can help you. One of the most poignant memories I have from working for Coca-Cola is visiting a new informal settlement (AKA squatter camp) in the late 1990s. The Coke rep said he wanted me to see someone with a spaza shop. The shop had dirt floors, crooked shelves and painstakingly hand-written signs. The rep told me, 'This guys knows how to do business!' I was amazed, and when we asked him what he wanted, he said he wanted the Coke truck to deliver to his door. This was puzzling to me, but later the rep explained that the truck made him look like a big businessman, and more people would buy from him if they saw the truck delivering to his door. Sometimes what we need is not money or a lead. Ask yourself, “Who is out there and what can they do to help me?”


Nothing beats sweat equity. An idea is just an idea, until you turn it into a business. I know one serial entrepreneur who tried idea after idea until he hit on something that worked. He was addicted to starting new businesses – some worked, some didn’t, but he never gave up. He never went to university, but taught himself as much as he could. That's what I call sweat equity – investing in yourself and into the business. Are you willing to keep trying new ideas until you get something that works, and even if everyone says no, are you willing to keep going?


In our entrepreneurship study, a key learning for me is that you don't need anything to become an entrepreneur – just an enormous amount of passion and drive. I saw entrepreneurs with no education, business background or training create businesses out of nothing. To learn more about our study or contact us, see ers.zazensa.com.