“Entrepreneurship can’t be taught! You’ve either got it or you don’t.” This is partially correct, but misguided thinking.
You can’t really teach certain intrinsic traits vital to entrepreneurship like resilience, drive, risk appetite. You can amplify what you have through experience, but we’ve all got our natural starting point.
But the ‘secret sauce’ to success, the thing that can unlock that talent, is that everything else CAN be taught.
It can be learned
Most startups don’t fail to start, they fail to grow.
Startup advisor, investor, director and Professor at The University of Melbourne, Colin McLeod explains “They don’t fail to grow because they have bad ideas, they fail to grow because they can’t manage the business that houses that idea.”
“It requires skills like understanding how to manage people, deal with investors, manage suppliers, craft marketing strategies, and construct and read financial statements. These are a teachable set of skills.”
You don’t need an innate ability to know whether you should hire contract or permanent staff for your business needs. You can learn about the different employment models and the benefits/risks of each to decide which is right for your business. Same is true for the myriad of operational decisions a founder needs to make to establish a sustainable business.
Neither learning nor talent alone are enough
Developing these attainable skills alone won’t guarantee success. Just like relying on resilience, drive or a strong risk appetite won’t either. It’s the combination of natural talent and a well-trained hand that’s the magic ingredient.
You see this in athletes all the time. Natural talent simply isn’t enough. The superstars are the ones who had the natural ability to shoot hoops at 6 years old and then trained their skills for years, work closely with expert coaches, to amplify their chances of success.
If you think you have the talent to build a remarkable business, the act of learning the teachable skills and working with experts can give you the structure to fast-track your growth and leapfrog your progress. You don’t always have to learn from your own mistakes. You can learn from other people’s.
It needs to be taught
The slow-down of the mining boom, globalisation and technology mean Australia needs to find a way to take up the economic slack to stay a globally competitive economy. We need to find the next wave high-potential talent and arm them with the skills to create the jobs, wealth and opportunity of tomorrow.
We can’t just rely on the outliers, explains Colin McLeod, “In any endeavour, there are people who are so ridiculously talented that they can do anything despite not having studied entrepreneurship – like the Richard Brandsons and Mark Zuckerbergs of the world. But history tells us that most people aren’t like them”. We need to increase the chances of success for more founders.
While in Silicon Valley during the Dot Com Bubble, Colin saw the consequences of not building a business on a solid foundation, “I was in Silicon Valley when Amazon, Google and Apple were getting started. No one understood the internet, but FOMO [Fear Of Missing Out] was driving action. People were getting ridiculous amounts of money for startups that had no more substance than an untested idea. In some cases, people thought if you threw enough money at it, you could make it work. It was a very expensive way to find out that an idea isn’t enough.”
In the current climate of excitement about entrepreneurship, many people are stumbling around in the dark, relying just on their ‘hustle’. Australia needs more businesses to break through and thrive, not just survive. And we need to teach our next generation of founders to seek sustainable growth over quick exits.
How to teach it
A guided learning environment is a good model for many people while others learn better in a more freeform way. Whatever your preferred learning style, there are some fundamental experiences they all need to maximise their entrepreneurial success:
Whatever your learning environment, having a feedback loop of people will make you better and progress faster. “Build the strongest possible network around you to give you feedback on your idea to refine it – this magnifies your success” Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn founder and prolific investor.
Successful entrepreneurs paying it forward
A lot of successful entrepreneurs volunteer their valuable time to share the lessons learned from their journey and what they wish they knew. Many even teach in a formal capacity at leading universities, so they must think entrepreneurship is something that can be taught.
Colin McLeod explains, “The opportunity to learn is a critical part of being an entrepreneur and formal education looks like a good model for a lot of people. At the individual level, the founders of Amazon, Google, Dropbox, Uber, Airbnb, are all college graduates who studied entrepreneurship as part of their formal education.”
“At the institutional level, the fact that graduates from Stanford University have created about 50,000 businesses that exist today, employing about 3 million people, and turning over 2.7 trillion dollars looks like a pretty good indicator of entrepreneurship as a teachable/learnable skill.”
Whether it teaches you new skills or unlocks your potential, dedicating time and effort to ‘upskill’ can be the difference between starting a business and growing a business.
Wade Institute of Entrepreneurship is a leading centre for entrepreneurial education. We deliver programs to accelerate learning, creation and connection.