Find your “WHY” and unleash your entrepreneurial beast

Abed Tau
Entrepreneurship is a mysterious creature; so much is written and said about it. Everyone seems to have an opinion as to what makes a successful entrepreneur. A starting point for exploring the meaning of entrepreneurial triumph is to look at the idea of ‘success’ itself.

At the simplest level, success is the achievement of a specific goal. But success means different things to different people. It’s logical to assume that everybody wants to be successful in terms of their own individual goals. Nobody plans to fail.

In trying to understand the paths to successful entrepreneurship, it is tempting to reduce its attainment to a linear process. It is human nature to search for cause and effect relationships. Much of the research into what makes some entrepreneurs successful is based upon studying the super successful ones. The idea is to then instruct people to replicate the behaviours of the successful.

This approach totally disregards two important issues: firstly, the fact that different entrepreneurs have very different goals. What might be success to one measure is failure on another. Secondly, it disregards the very real phenomenon of survivorship bias. By studying ‘survivors’, in this case successful entrepreneurs, we immediately exclude all data relating to failure. By doing so we assume a ‘survivor’s’ success is a direct result of their specific attributes or actions. This does not prove that failures did not take a very similar course of action. Thus, false assumptions about what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur are reached.

A different way to view entrepreneurial success is to focus on the ‘why’ rather than the what. An entrepreneur’s ‘why’ is their own personal version of success. Focusing on this ‘why’ question was the starting point for entrepreneur and chartered accountant [CA(SA)], Abed Tau. His curiosity was the stimulus for his ‘why’. He explains, “My ‘why’ was to ascertain what it is that makes an entrepreneur”.

In his quest to answer this question, Tau’s search led him to query common entrepreneurial assumptions. Through this process he was able to fashion his own version of entrepreneurial ‘truth’. His ‘why’ ultimately lead him to his ‘how’.

One of his early realisations he confirms, was that comfort is the enemy of success. Comfort by definition suggests lack of difficulty. Lack of difficulty may seem appealing, but without challenge, his view is that there is no catalyst for positive adaptation. Without difficulty there is no immediate need for innovation and change.

He embraced discomfort when he started his business, Thamani Financial Solutions. In running his business, he soon came to the conclusion that people are not the greatest asset of a business, GREAT people are. This is a subtle but important difference. It highlights the importance of giving hiring decisions the level of attention they deserve. “I have learned not to treat great employees as employees but rather as business partners. In doing so, their motivation is fuelled, which leads to business innovation,” says Tau.

In his entrepreneurial journey, Tau also learned the value of focus. “The ability to focus is one thing; knowing what to focus on is another,” Tau says.

Tau observed that a common entrepreneurial misstep is to put too much emphasis on less important things like fancy offices in prime areas or flashy business cards. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with these trappings, but in the start-up phase there are more pressing concerns, as he reflects: “The start-up phase should be reserved for perfecting your service or product, getting new customers and keeping them.”

 Another counterintuitive approach adopted by Tau is his attitude towards his competitors. He says: “The companies that lose are the companies that compete by focussing on the opposition. By focusing on your own game, you will inevitably strengthen you own position. The stronger your own business, the harder it is for rivals to displace you.”

“The reasons for pursuing an entrepreneurial venture are as varied as the ventures themselves.” He concludes: “There is no specific entrepreneurial formula for success. The process is often circuitous in nature. And it will be really hard work. Let your “Why” be the compass which leads the way to your ‘what’ and ‘how’. The premise is that a personally meaningful ‘why’ will give you the psychological impetus to find your ‘how’”.