In a recent article for my Inc. magazine column, I talked about how often I get asked what I think separates a true entrepreneur from a businessperson. I don’t really think it’s any one trait, but having said that, there is one distinguishing characteristic that I see time and again in successful entrepreneurs.
“A true entrepreneur is able to look at a situation and identify an opportunity, or a solution to a problem, or a path around an obstacle that, for some reason, everyone else has missed.”
I shared the story of “Linda” as an example of what I mean. Linda is a milliner in Manhattan. My wife, Elaine, and I stumbled across her shop on a walk and went in, since Elaine wanted to find a hat to wear to the Inc. 5000 conference. After admiring the hatboxes that came with each purchase, Linda told us the story of how she was responsible for a very large hatbox becoming a big seller for her manufacturer. I had to know the details of that.
Turning Problems Into Solutions
Linda explained that the spring season brought a sharp rise in requests for wide brimmed hats for women. They required a very large hatbox to hold them. Linda’s customers were willing to pay a premium for their hats, and it was important for Linda’s brand to be able to sell these hats with the same level of quality and presentation as the rest of her stock. So she was dismayed when she learned from her manufacturer that the die cutter they would need to produce the very large hatbox was broken. Without the hatbox, Linda couldn’t sell her wide brimmed hats.
“That meant sacrificing what was potentially a significant source of revenue.”
Rather than give up, Linda offered to pay for the repairs, which amounted to a couple of hundred dollars. The owner agreed to this, though he was clearly skeptical that this was worth his time. You can imagine Linda’s surprise when her hatbox order arrived some weeks later without the repair bill! She called the manager, and learned that her manufacturer completed the die cutter repair, and contrary to what they thought would happen, proceeded to sell so many of the large hatboxes that they felt they couldn’t in good conscience charge Linda for the repairs.
“He was grateful to her for recognizing an opportunity he had been totally unaware of.”
That Special Spark Entrepreneurs Have
Linda did two things that I see over and over again in true entrepreneurs. She didn’t give up in the face of a difficult problem. Instead, she came up with a solution that worked for both her and her associate – knowing that there was a bigger opportunity than he was able to see at that time. And THAT is the hallmark of a true entrepreneur.
You can read my article in its original form at Inc. Magazine’s website.