Monday, March 7, 2011

Define: Entrepreneur

I find that the term "entrepreneur" gets tossed around a lot these days. It seems that anyone with an idea and a little bit of competence gets to assume the monicker of "the entrepreneur" just a little too easily and I am getting tired of it.

Well today, I met with two very different, and very real entrepreneurs and each one of them taught me something about what it means to be a true entrepreneur and risk taker. Their examples also served to restore faith in the term and and reminded me that being an entrepreneur is something you earn, not something you call yourself.

The first set of entrepreneurs I met with are the team behind the FaceBook application called YearBook. This application has been available for a little while now and has had impressive adoption. In fact, they have been so successful that they are now able to fund the start up of a new venture which is built around the concept of "gamification" to captivate a whole new audience.

I was there to talk to them about how I can help them build up, and scale out their infrastructure ahead of the release of their game. The team is scrappy and insanely focused on success, and I felt at home with them immediately. They are four people who have big ideas and dreams and the passion and belief to bring their goals to fruition.

The second entrepreneur I met with was an old friend who works at the University of Utah in the Geology department. He is part of the team which is responsible for placing and maintaining the seismic sensors in Utah and western Wyoming. The data that these sensors collect is then fed to the USGS, Homeland Security and FEMA for many uses including disaster preparedness.

You may ask yourself how this gentlemen could possibly be an entrepreneur working in academia which prides itself on its high levels of rigor and bureaucracy, which are arguably the antithesis of being an entrepreneur. Well I am here to suggest the being an entrepreneur is more a state of mind than it is a thing. In other words, I submit that you will find entrepreneurs in all walks of life and in places you would least expect to find them. Yes, you will find them even in the storied halls of academia.

What makes Jon an entrepreneur is his ability to think outside of the three ring binder and see opportunities where most see only disadvantage and toil. To point, when he joined the team he saw that there was a gapping hole in how the data from the sensors was being collected and stored. Basically there was a sizable single point of failure in the form of the building where the data was received and stored. The problem to solve was that in the event of a seismic event (aka an Earthquake) of sizable magnitude along the Wasatch front, the flow of all of this critical data would be disrupted if the building was damaged or collapsed.

When he saw this, he did the only thing that a entrepreneur could do, he set out to remedy it by using his experience, creativity and conviction. Needless to say, the single point of failure has been removed and data now flows to multiple redundant points on the network which has increased the survivability and availability of the data by many orders of magnitude.

I think what being an entrepreneur means is to be someone who is willing to say "the question is not who do I need to ask, it is who is going to stop me?" Both the YearBook team and Jon show this quality in various differing ways, but all of them are passionately committed to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals.

As I pursue my next adventure, I know one thing for sure, wherever I end up I will once again be in the company of true entrepreneurs.

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