Oct 27, 2009 14
While all great entrepreneurs share similar traits, the education entrepreneur is a special breed. This post imparts an overview of what it takes to be a successful, backable education entrepreneur in today’s state of affairs, if not in any macroeconomic cycle. N.B. This is an overview post that will be followed by successive, more detailed posts pegged to each of the attributes below.
Fire-in-the-Belly with a Social Bent
There is nothing more inspriring, more genuine than an entrepreneur who exudes and incites passion. Founders or early CEOs who have deeply seated passion for the problem(s) they are solving have the desire to change the world – and can bootstrap and find a way to hit milestones. They are positively infectious. They attract talent. They never give in.
Market Knowledge & Focus
The education industry is vast, hyperfragmented, and has taken many prisoners. The early leader of an education company must know the customers, the channels, the players, the policy trends that are in existence and developing around them. Knowing whether a K-12 practitioner will use a novel web service for math instruction, or whether the college professor will adopt a new digital textbook is best left to the experienced entrepreneur – or with a venture syndicate that has deep, deep coffers and very patient limited partners.
Financial Foresight & Discipline
I was inspired by the late Professor Drucker on this front. Ideally, an entrepreneur would have experienced secondary if not primary P&L experience. He or she should have the ability to test unit or small scale economics before attempting a large scale ramp up. Having a firm understanding of what it takes to get to positive cash flow is critical to discerning capital needs for scale.
Knowing & Sharing Personal Strengths & Weaknesses
No entrepreneur is good or even average in all facets of company building. The metacognitive, genuine souls who freely admit their weaknesses and highlight their strengths are the best leaders, the best team builders. While start up cowboys and rock star CEOs are fun, it is the managers who can decentralize decision-making, who can admit and quickly move on from failure that will win consistently, indelibly.
The education entrepreneur is a key element in the fiber of the world’s regenerative economy. As Carl Schramm, President of the Kauffman Foundation has stated, “every entrepreneur is a social entrepreneur.” The great education entrepreneur, whether in a for-profit or nonprofit context, is acutely focused on execution, on serving the end user, on iteratively moving the needle in the various sectors of a trillion dollar industry.