Look around you. Almost every thing you see has been created by the hand of man. Every gadget is born of an entrepreneurial thought. Every screw, every film, hand grenade or pair of oversized silicon breasts. How many inventions have you created? How many products have you made? Not a single one? Why not? What makes you different from Ruben Rausing, who gave the world Tetrapak? Or Bill Gates, who taught us what an operating system is (and that we must have his)? Or how about J.K. Rowling, whose magical world and the young wizard Harry Potter has sold movie tickets for $1.7 billion and more books than anyone else in such a short time? And, by the way, are the magic worlds of Harry Potter or The Lord of The Rings more magical that what we have created over the last 150 years, where humans can fly, talk at great distances, photograph the moon and our inner organs? If we could bring back the Djingis Khan or any otherworld ruler of old, he could more easily have related to Tolkien’s tyrant Sauron and Midgard’s magic than to guided missiles, interactive games on the Internet, or talking elevators.
If you look to the academic world, it is remarkable how little research has been done on entrepreneurship and the creators of enterprises. There are piles of management books, but these are more likely to give advice and standard solutions rather than describing relationships based on experience. In economics, too, one has completely ignored the entrepreneur. It talks of supply and demand, about capital and production resources. Never does it talk about those who create demand, persuade capital and lead and motivate the means of production — about archentrepreneurs. Perhaps the academic world is too far from the doer-mentality that is the lifeblood of the entrepreneur’s daily life.
One of my favorite anecdotes is about how Henry Ford went to his long time banker to present a business plan for mass producing “automobiles” in the hope of getting the bank’s financial backing. The banker is said to have been impressed with the business plan, analysis and budget. Despite making an effort, he could not really find any flaws in Ford’s arguments. But despite that, Ford didn’t get a loan. The banker started by complimenting Ford for his work, but based his rejection as follows:
“Mr. Ford, think that if your business plan became a reality, there would be automobiles in such numbers that our dear old gravel roads would not hold them. You would have to put some hard substance on them. In addition, you would have to put up some kind of fueling stations, possibly all over the country. Think what that would look like? And how would you get fuel to them? By train? Another thing that comes to mind is that we have to prevent fools from getting automobiles, perhaps by some kind of license. Otherwise there will be accidents. As if that was not enough, some kind of signaling system has to be put in, at least in thickly settled areas, so that people don’t run into each other. You must understand yourself that I am describing a society so absurd that even you can’t believe in it. Our bank, in any case, cannot contribute to such fantasies.”
And so Ford’s loan application was refused. But Ford didn’t belong to those who give up on the first try, and we all know what happened. Ford became one of the past century’s greatest archentrepreneurs.
Today, practically anything can be manufactured. Paradoxically, realism is becoming more and more relevant in a future becoming more and more like science fiction, where everything can be made by inventing and combining the possibilities of new goods and services. Is it realistic that there is a market for this product? Is it relevant for the potential customers? Does it create value and is it better than the competitors’ product?
It is said there were some 2,600 carmakers in the US at the turn of the 20th century. They all saw what the banker didn’t see. Today, only a few giants are left. Only they have the ability to link what they saw to a capability of executing it.