The Natural Limits of Entrepreneurship

by: Geoff Ficke

I have had the opportunity to work with literally hundreds of individuals who have attempted to become successful entrepreneurs. It is always fascinating to observe the difficulties that always confront people seeking to expand their range from one field of endeavor to another and how they handle obstacles. If it was easy everyone would try and the majority would succeed. In reality, only a few try and far fewer succeed.

I am reminded of a story about a United States Naval Academy graduate who rose to become a Fleet Admiral. One day he was on Chesapeake Bay on a friend’s 40 foot sail boat. The owner asked the Admiral if he would like to dock the sail boat. “No way”, said the Admiral. “I would not know how to handle this little boat in these winds and currents, you are experienced with her, you handle her”.

This is a classic example of a man knowing his limitations. Most people have some area of expertise in their arsenal of life’s experiences. They often utilize this expertise in pursuit of a hobby or in their work. The opportunity to hone and improve skills in a specific area where they have talent often leads to innovation that can be commercialized.

We all know the person who is able to build things with their hands. The artisan craftsmanship that they produce can become a lucrative business or enriching hobby. The entrepreneurial craftsman, or artist, enjoys the wonderful luxury of being able to make their living doing something that they enjoy and find fulfilling.

The true entrepreneur knows his limitations. This natural skill barrier, however, does not deter this innovator from finding a path to successfully commercializing their idea. If deficient in some areas, say sales, marketing, logistics, or planning, this person recognizes that expertise in these skills can be obtained from many sources. The dreamer, or faux-entrepreneur, sees this type of hurdle as a reason, really an excuse, to quit.

Very few people have the intangible ingredients necessary to become a successful entrepreneur. Most people dream about innovation, new ideas or starting their own business. These wannabe’s will never get much further than the dream sequence in turning their wishes into realities. They can never quite find the right time, the right place, or the right platform to launch their concept and turn it into a going concern. There is always a reason not to move ahead.

I often lecture at university business schools on the topic of entrepreneurship. The question most often posed to me is, “what makes a successful entrepreneur”? There is no definitive answer to that question. It is a bit like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s response when he was asked to if he knew how to define pornography. He replied simply, “I don’t have the definition; I just know it when I see it”.

It is much the same when we meet potential clients seeking to take the entrepreneurial plunge. The courage, vision and willingness to soak up knowledge that is so essential to successfully competing for commercial success is rarely evident. Most people are destined, and should continue to pursue their current life’s work. The ability to overcome repeated obstacles, keep fighting and never quit in the pursuit of a goal is quite simply not present in most people. Most people do not make the cut as entrepreneurs, but we do know potential entrepreneurs when we meet them.

Entrepreneurs have a positive personality. They see the possible and recognize that the word “no”, really just means “not now”. Obstacles are simply challenges to be overcome. They have the courage to take risks, and recognize that success is not assured. The competitive juices run deep in true entrepreneurs and they possess a real independent streak that is lacking in most people.

I know people in the fourth quarter of their lives that are sad, disappointed, some bitter, about the course they have chosen and the lot they have been dealt. I am sad for them. They have missed out on many of life’s greatest opportunities that come from pursuit of a goal, the chase, the struggle and the attainment of success.

In the 21st century it seems as if the pursuit of security and avoidance of risk is the chief goal of many people. That is fine for them. I would argue that the greatest risk is to live a life without challenges, working for stretch goals and basking in the glow of success that can best be secured when dreams become realities. The happiest people I know are entrepreneurial. They live full lives, commercially, spiritually and psychologically. In their life’s fourth quarter they have a treasure chest of accomplishments and memories that they know they will leave behind. The footprint they make on life is significant and memorable. They make the world a much better place for their contributions to it.

Geoff Ficke has been a serial entrepreneur for almost 50 years. As a small boy, earning his spending money doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, he learned the value of selling himself, offering service and value for money. After putting himself through the University of Kentucky (B.A. Broadcast Journalism, 1969) and serving in the United States Marine Corp, Mr. Ficke commenced a career in the cosmetic industry. After rising to National Sales Manager for Vidal Sassoon Hair Care at age 28, he then launched a number of ventures, including Rubigo Cosmetics, Parfums Pierre Wulff Paris, Le Bain Couture and Fashion Fragrance. Geoff Ficke and his consulting firm, Duquesa Marketing, Inc. (www.duquesamarketing.com) has assisted businesses large and small, domestic and international, entrepreneurs, inventors and students in new product development, capital formation, licensing, marketing, sales and business plans and successful implementation of his customized strategies. He is a Senior Fellow at the Page Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Business School, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.

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