World Entrepreneurs Day is 21 August. Here Emma discusses how the new generation of entrepreneurship is different, and it’s impact on the way business is done.
I think it’s important to get a handle on what we mean by entrepreneurship. I found it interesting going back to the etymology from the French to undertake or to manage’, from 1828. The ‘manage bit ‘I thought to be noteworthy, more of which in a sec.
The more up to date Oxford dictionary definition is of ‘someone who sets up a business in the hope of profit and takes on financial risk in the process’. Again the ‘sets up’ bit is what I think is interesting.
Personally, I’ve failed to identify with many of the connotations and media portrayals of what it means to be an entrepreneur. Alan Sugar’s Apprentice is the ultimate caricature example of how being in business can be interpreted as a sharp elbowed, wholly self interested exercise in self promotion. Over the years I’ve been left puzzled by the assumption that the entrepreneurial vocation is solely high octane and acquisitive at the expense of others.
The undertaking, setting up and managing parts I mentioned at the beginning are downplayed whilst the risk taking is, in my opinion, fixated on by many commentators.
Risk is undeniably involved in being an entrepreneur but then as Wilfred Emmanuel Jones aka The Black Farmer succinctly puts it in his book, Jeopardy – the only certainty in life is that it’s uncertain. Being employed involves risk – how vocal should you risk being with your boss? It’s all relative.
Moving from the start up stage is where I think entrepreneurship starts to get interesting and ultimately more rewarding. I would argue that it’s the ongoing management, development and quest for continuous improvement that tests an individual and a team’s resolve and enterprise. This may not be as glamorous as ‘the winner takes all’ image some people have of business but it’s the often unseen hard graft that makes for a successful longer term business. So often entrepreneurship is taken to solely mean the starting up bit – I’d hope that we start up, take some risks, and then focus on creating a great ongoing and sustainable enterprise.
It’s not necessarily as simple as going from type of entrepreneurship to a new one; some things have always been thus.
I’m not sure that we are leaving behind the bad old days of greedy, unenlightened capitalism into a new ‘woke’ era of better business. There have always been lots of different types of entrepreneurship, with lots of brilliant businesses quietly operating below the radar.
Those who shout loudest tend to get heard and I think this is why the extroverted and ultra competitive types are over represented. You only have to have attended a few large trade shows to observe the various behaviours of business owners up close. You get those who are locked into an arms race of ‘my stand is bigger / more expensive than yours’. There are those who compulsively have to compete with you in every sentence, from business growth to their lawn mower-. And us Honeybunners included, we’ve tended to overplay the small and cute ‘artisan bakery from Dorset’ card. My point being, there is room for all and it’s a lot more varied a landscape than might first appear.
We’ve encountered the humble, the nasty, the lovely and the brilliant and everything in between in the 20 plus years of running Honeybuns. We’ve traded with the majority of our customers for over 10 years. Some, like John Lewis, we’ve traded with for 20. We’ve gotten to know people and the organisations fairly well and we’ve grown up together. Mistakes have been made, cross moments had, but we’ve worked through it together– most of the time. In a couple of instances we have concluded we’re not best suited and have parted ways, forgoing profitable orders in the process because of acute personality and culture clashes.
I think the nub here is that we all can choose how we want to operate. We can set out our stall of values, aims and red lines from the get go.
At Honeybuns we want to work in a collaborative way with a focus on continuous improvement. As well as running things lean and profitably we value softer skills including emotional intelligence and kindness in our work place. We’ve learnt that we cannot work with everyone and vice versa.
I’d like to think we’re relatively evolved and attuned to contemporary society (although we can always do better). We’re not unusual in this – there are plenty of like minded businesses and individuals who do it much better and who serve to inspire us.
Where things are different
So after saying business has always been much more nuanced than is commonly perceived and has attracted a varied cast of players, I do think there are great societal changes happening and that we are required, as businesses, to respond to them faster. I think we’ve constantly been evolving and responding to societal change. It’s the pace of the societal change that has quickened.
Micro examples include, in the past 3 years in the food industry, we’ve seen the rise and fall of Primal/paleo diets, coconut water, stevia sweeteners, beetroot crisps, the list goes on.
Bigger picture stuff – more widely we’ve seen building public interest in and demand for sustainable packaging, thoughtfully sourced ingredients, and questions about diversity in the workplace. This is due largely to us being more digitally connected, more questions being asked, and more consumer mobility. We’ll not buy from you if your environmental values do not marry with ours, for instance.
Increasingly University campuses are introducing solely plant based cafes and bans on single use plastics in all catering outlets.
In the media we’re hearing that millennial have reached peak stuff. They want experiences instead. They will create the businesses they want to run and these businesses will reflect their changing world. It has always been thus. The key is to listen, observe, and stay relevant.
We’ve acknowledged that we’re veritably Jurassic as a business. We were collectively getting quite long in the tooth and digital was not our default position. We’d become comfortable and not necessarily that relevant.
So, 3 years ago we launched a determined effort to harness the energy of the youngsters we do have and to take on apprentices to learn from them. The youngsters we come into contact with are not necessarily wanting to start their own businesses but they do display plenty of entrepreneurial traits namely: curiosity, a willingness to ask questions, positivity.
I’d argue that entrepreneurs starting out now, would be wise to embrace technology, the evolved nature of the consumer and the audience, and to respond thoughtfully and quickly.
To curate young energy and create a challenging, nurturing, sustainable enterprise wherein you can all benefit and flourish.