This is the first of a 4 part series focusing on the Entrepreneur As Inventor by Brian Venis.
Since selling my company, I’ve been contemplating what the title of entrepreneur/leader means. What things are needed to succeed while wearing all those hats?
In particular, I’ve been thinking about the creativity it takes to dance from business issue to business issue, context-switching and role-playing as you go. My conclusion is that, as entrepreneurs, the real crux of the job isn’t just coming up with a better mousetrap or getting through the day-to-day. The real crux of entrepreneurship is being an inventor.
In this series of articles, which I plan to publish over the next few weeks, I want to write about what I think this means.
As a bit of background, for the last thirty years, I was the owner/operator of a manufacturing company that serviced the industrial sector. Our product – industrial rollers – ranged from very small pieces (10mm diameter) to very large ones (750mm diameter). Lengths varied from 5mm to 6000mm, and weights varied from a few grams to 10 tonnes. There was a ton of variation, and not a lot of standardization in the industry. At a given time, we might be manufacturing hundreds if not thousands of different products.
So for us, like many founders and entrepreneurs, many of the systems that we used and relied on we had to make up as we went along. We had to create every system, process, and metric to effectively run the business, often from scratch. This ranged from accounting financially for what was happening on the shop floor, to creating meaningful pricing structures, determining proper costing, and building (then revamping) every system from manufacturing to sales, HR, and administration. To say the least, our company was a complex environment that always kept me on my toes.
The way I see it, each of these little systems, from how you view your accounting information to the way you manage your employees, are inventions. They’re hacks, techniques, and heuristics that solidify over time and define the way the business itself runs. Their strengths, often, are the scaffolding that your business is built upon. And their weaknesses, almost always, are where the headaches start to form. We are, in so many ways, our systems.
My suspicion is that, for many entrepreneurs and leaders, this description might sound familiar. Of course, each business has its own nuance and complexity, regardless of whether it’s a software company, a logistics company, or a manufacturer. The systems themselves differ, but often many of the conditions are the same.
Too often, as entrepreneurs, we do it alone. There were plenty of times operating the business that I needed an alternate perspective or a sounding board to bounce ideas off but didn’t know where to find it. I felt, as a solitary inventor, that I alone had to solve my way out of a problem without the support of others. I wasted countless hours and created plenty of sleepless nights because of it. But it also taught me a lot.
That’s why I decided to write this series of articles. For me, viewing the work of entrepreneurship through the prism of the inventor helps to illuminate the fears and uncertainties that come with business decision-making and systems design. Most of us did not come out of university, college or technical school with an education specifically focussed on how to do our jobs. Instead, we learned the requisite skills from the school of hard knocks. As inventors, we’re the ones that need to figure it out, typically through trial and error.
My hope is that some of these insights will resonate and help make your work as an inventor a little easier. For the next few weeks, I’ll be writing on topics that I find relevant, using some of the systems I developed during my own journey. These include my thoughts on financial analysis, managing people, being a leader, and making decisions.
Should any of the pieces I write resonate with you, I’d be happy to take the discussion further. As I move into the next stage of my career, I’m hoping to put many of the things I’ve learned to the test as a consultant, and I would be happy to help with the process of designing systems and inventions for your own company. Business is always difficult, but there’s often an easier way. Maybe we can find it together.