Being an entrepreneur

A Computer Science student wrote to me: “I like to start my own software company and be an entrepreneur like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs but all my friends told me that I am dreaming. What do you need to become an entrepreneur?”

Answer: To many people being an entrepreneur is just a dream but there are few people who can make this dream come true. These are people who have an overwhelming desire to start their own company. They have the courage to devote everything to achieve their goal. They are willing to take risks and accept the consequence on what they do. They do it NOT because they want to be rich or famous BUT because they love it. And, through all the ups and downs, good or bad times, they still believe in doing what they love. These are the characteristics of an entrepreneur. In simple word, they do it because they love the challenge.

To be an entrepreneur, you must have knowledge, both technical and business knowledge. You should have a working knowledge about the business that you want to start BEFORE starting it. That means you must learn as much as possible about the business, not just have some ideas but working knowledge of how the business is operated. You must know everything in detail such as identify customers, analyze market, and control your risk by placing a limit on how much you invest in your business. Starting a company requires a lot of preparations.

Operating the “wrong business” is the major mistake that most entrepreneurs make. You should spend time analyze the market before making your decision. You must select the business that is right for you. Preparation takes a lot of planning and complete knowledge to be successful. Do not start something that may be too challenging. Start small then grow rather than start big then get into trouble. Try to find a market that has long-term potential. Go to where the market WILL BE, not to where it is now. Many people start company based on what is fashionable at that time without knowing that a business is not a hobby to do when you have time and money to spend. For example, today building personal computer is not a good business as you are competing with HP, Dell, Lenovo or Apple etc. Even you could do that at lower price but you do not have the capital to stay long and the “brand” to compete with them. You should work “Smart” not work “Hard”.

Every company needs money to start and to operate. As a businessman, you must learn how to predict cash requirements and cash flow control. Many companies can be started on a very small scale with a small investment. As the business grows and you gain more experience, you can spend more for growth. In the beginning, be very careful with your small capital. You must learn how to be humble and willing to listen to what customer needs. Never assume that you know what the customer wants or what function to build. Remember, it is the customers that make your business success or not.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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