“What it takes to be an entrepreneur and why now is the best time to become one.”
By Jeff Fritz
It’s scary out there. Graduating from university, students would hope to whatever belief system they holds dear that they’ll be able to land a job within their chosen profession, to finally start their adult lives in earnest. “But what if that doesn’t happen?” they might wonder. “What are my options?”
For many soon-to-be-graduates, the answer to this existential query is weighing more and more on their collective minds. And even with the economy crawling out of a recession, finding work—any work—remains a bloodsport. They will be competing with thousands of other new graduates and hundreds of thousands of other adult professionals for the jobs they want.
Pile on to this the fact that since the 1980s, since the rise of globalization, cost cutting trends have changed the rules of the game. Specifically, such movements as downsizing (reducing organizational size either through the number of employees or the number or breadth of departments); delayering (restructuring the organization to possess fewer levels of bureaucracy); outsourcing (getting rid of organizational functions to instead purchase them from external specialists); and casualization of work (part-time, flex-time, temp work, volunteer, etc) have led to a complete shift in how most view the concept of work.
Summarizing this shift, Professor Jon Kerr, a lecturer and coordinator of the management area in the School of Administrative Studies in the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, stated, “The employment environment today is fundamentally different than the environment 30, 40, 50 years ago. The idea of getting out of university, getting into one stream of work and staying in that work until retirement, those days are long gone.”
For some, taking action, taking command of one’s life to create one’s own opportunities feels like a welcome refuge from the thought of having to rely on the whims of external employers. This mindset is entrepreneurship at its heart and many young professionals are viewing this profession/lifestyle as a viable option upon graduation.
One such individual is Moshe Lokshin, President of the Entrepreneurship Society at York. Growing up in Israel, Moshe developed a strong background in computers, so much so that at 17 he decided to start his own business. To his surprise (and a great deal of luck he adds), his business, M.n.B. Computers Ltd, grew over three years to generate annual sales of approximately 3.5 million Shekels (750,000 CAN).
Sitting down with him, we discussed the lifestyle of the entrepreneur. Sure it provides the satisfaction of striking it out on your own and, if you’re successful, a great deal of wealth, but is it for everybody?
Moshe grinned. Then with a Russian accent confessed, “(When I first started out) I had to sacrifice—initially it was a girlfriend, then friends, my high school grades were lower, all the things that I didn’t know how to balance with my business, how to manage into my schedule.”
“You see, for entrepreneurs, you have to do everything, because usually when you first start out, you don’t have the capital to hire anybody. … Those things, how to manage your time, you’re not born with them. It takes time to learn.”
In the end though, Moshe confirmed that, for him, the pros outweighed the cons. “Entrepreneurship is my life.”
The conversation then shifted to the qualities a young professional needs to succeed as an entrepreneur. “Generally, I would say (you need to) have dedication, persistence, discipline, adaptiveness and awareness. Things are always changing in the market place. You have to be prepared for uncertain situations. And you have to be alert. You have to keep up on the market, know who your competitors are and if they make a mistake, know how to capitalize on it.”
But Moshe added that above all else, “I think that it is very important for entrepreneurs to be okay with failure, because it’s there all the time. You fail and you have to stand up and keep on going.”
If that last point hasn’t scared prospective entrepreneurs off, then the next likely question one might ask is, “Where do I begin?”
During the discussion with Professor Kerr, he pointed out that a good place to start is through networking. “Success in entrepreneurship is as much who you know as what you know or how innovative you are. On two sides, it helps you with getting the resources you need to get your venture off the ground … and also, at the market interface, networking exposes you to different channels, new potential customers.
“All things together, it’s usually the well-connected person who wins the game versus the individual without connections.”
Kerr went on to explain how, in terms of lack of funding, there are also a variety of modest funding grants and loans offered by the government for young entrepreneurs (that is, if you can’t get funding from family, friends, the bank, etc). Moreover, the importance is pressed for those students who lack experience, to “weave (entrepreneurship) into their education and choice of part time employment, (to expose them) to the entrepreneurial landscape (as early as possible).”
“But still,” one could say, “the costs seem to high. Starting a business, running a business, nowadays only the big corporations can do that. How can I compete?”
New Age in DIY
This mindset would have been perfectly valid and common only ten years ago. For many, the costs of starting one’s own business, competing with the ‘big boys’ were staggering, not to mention the sheer amount of industry or legal knowledge one would need to obtain to ensure their business lasted past the first few years. But something arose this past decade, something which acted as a game-changer: the Internet Revolution.
It seems quaint to say this now, especially with how comfortable many Gen Nexters are with the Internet. But that’s the point! When one thinks about it, the Internet—and the Information Age it helped foster—has completely democratized almost every aspect of starting a new venture. And for those Gen Nexter’s, currently in their 20s, they’re the first generation to grow up with it, to know how to use it intuitively.
So why pay huge sums of money to market one’s product or service on television or in newspapers, when one can do so for free (or next to free) online (e.g. Ebay or SparkFun) and in a much more targeted way?
Why shell out thousands in consultancy costs, when one can access reams of industry, legal, regulatory, pricing, logistical information, etc, for free online.
Why invest millions of dollars in owning manufacturing plants, warehouses, shipping fleets, etc, when one can organize online the outsourcing of a product’s complete production to foreign countries like China (e.g. Alibaba.com: business-to-business marketplace), have it stored in a nearby warehousing company, accept payments for products online (e.g. paypal.com), then deliver one’s products anywhere in the world (e.g. government or premium mail carriers)?
Even for those archetypal, DIY garage inventors, they can now download free design tools like Blender or Google’s SketchUp to create 3D renderings of their product, then purchase online the manufacturing equipment (which have fallen in price from the hundred thousands to a few thousand, e.g. MakerBot) they would need to build their products at home or in their rented space.
A Budding Star
The latter is the approach Moshe is currently taking with his new venture, Up Entertainment. Started over a year ago, Moshe invented a new elevator display system for condo elevators that will show video and advertisements to riders, but do so wirelessly instead of using long bundles of cable, which is the industry standard.
He programmed the software himself and, with a business partner, constructed a several prototypes of the screens, which were later installed (as a trial run) in a number of smaller GTA condos. With their success, Moshe has already contacted a Chinese manufacturing company to produce more of these elevator screens at much lower costs. If all goes well, he plans to soon shift his business into full operation, installing custom screens in condo elevators throughout the GTA.
In all, never before has it cost so little or been so easy to not only start one’s own business, but make it survive and even grow globally. The only thing stopping most from doing so is the willingness to take risks and invest their time to pursue those opportunities they see in front of them.
For Moshe, there’s one thing he would tell a young counterpart interested in trying entrepreneurship, “(It’s) a lifestyle, not just a career. So what do you have to improve most? Yourself. I am constantly trying to develop myself, looking for what I’m good at and what are my weaknesses and trying to improve on them.
“There is no stop. You can always be better, always continue, always improve, always explore other opportunities. It’s like a never ending marathon.”
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