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  • Writer's pictureRohan Bhatia

The Three Kinds of Entrepreneurs

Most entrepreneurs have something to prove. They have something to offer. And, they probably all want to become rich. These people are driven to the ends of the earth with ambition and the desire to make their ideas turn into money-printing machines. But as we look across history at the finest entrepreneurs of all time, what characteristics do they share? How do they differ? What ties them together?


Many entrepreneurs tend to channel their inner Frodo Baggins and aspire to become the most adventurous businessmen/women. Take the iconic Richard Branson - founder of Virgin Group which controls more than 400 companies including Virgin Galactic, which is his very own spaceflight company promoting space tourism. Branson has made cameos in films and TV, written books including an autobiography fittingly titled “Losing my Virginity” and has even attempted to break the record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. For Branson, money is but a means to an end - and that end is to live a life of adventure, unpredictability and style.


So what can we learn from such an entrepreneur? The rush of blood and excitement that these types constantly go after fuels their ambition for success. It drives energy and tenacity from the entrepreneurs and fuels their strong work ethic. As we investigate the entrepreneurial career of a tycoon like Richard Branson, the significance of risk-taking is also made quite apparent. Whilst Branson’s Virgin Group controls over 400 entities, he’s had his fair share of risky investments which have crashed and burned. Virgin Cola, for example, was Branson's attempt to break the monopoly of Coca-Cola on carbonated soft drinks. The venture lasted no more than 3 years as Coca-Cola flexed its muscles and before long, had all but killed off Virgin Cola’s brand. Yet failures such as this are what make entrepreneurs. Branson himself has been quoted as saying, “I suppose the secret to bouncing back is not only to be unafraid of failures but to use them as motivational and learning tools. ... There's nothing wrong with making mistakes as long as you don't make the same ones over and over again.”


On the other side of the spectrum, we have entrepreneurs who are prime opportunists, keeping a keen eye out for chances to put their capital and minds to work and create profit. These kinds of entrepreneurs rarely get into the news or public spotlight, but are constantly working behind the scenes to lock up deals and grow. Alan Sugar, another renowned British entrepreneur, embodied this ideal across the end of the 20th century. In the 1980s, Sugar saw gaps in the emerging technology and computer markets and turned his company Amstrad into one of the world’s largest computer manufacturers. With his newfound riches from Amstrad, Sugar took his capital and quietly made significant investments in Amsair, his aviation company, Amsprop, his property investment firm and Viglen, his IT services firm. In the meantime, Sugar became part-owner of flourishing English Premier League Soccer Club Tottenham Hotspur and even served as chairman in this role.


Opportunists like Sugar embody the skill and importance of being able to spot gaps in a market, step in and make a difference. He did this with all his ventures. For aspiring entrepreneurs, this ability to scan markets and identify areas in which they can add value is absolutely crucial. Sugar’s speed of execution and efficiency in getting involved with deals is another key skill that entrepreneurs should seek to develop.


So far, we’ve looked at two different types of entrepreneurs - yet both are fuelled by a similar characteristic. Personal desire and satisfaction. For Branson, it’s satisfaction of the intrinsic type - but for Sugar, it’s a more extrinsic drive to generate wealth. But this kind of selfish entrepreneurship isn’t the only way forward.


Enter, the visionary. This is an entrepreneur who creates problems for real social problems and takes advantage of the demand for social change to generate wealth. Much like the adventurer - economic profit isn’t really the driving force. Instead, it’s much more so a means to an end. Yet what’s different is that while the adventurer uses wealth for their personal adrenaline rushes, the visionary is focused on collective progress.


There’s no greater example of a visionary entrepreneur than the ever-popular and eccentric Elon Musk. Whilst often recognised for his provocative Twitter activity around cryptocurrency - Musk has engineered a cult following after his incredible work over the past two decades. After helping found PayPal, Elon Musk could’ve sat comfortably and lived off his riches. Instead, driven by his desire to build civilisation on Mars, Musk created SpaceX to privately create rockets and spacecraft. Driven by his desire to see AI used in the right way, Musk created Neuralink to help design the robots and AI of the future. And driven by his ambition for a green earth, clean energy and tech, Musk has also created Tesla - the world’s largest electric car manufacturer - and SolarCity, who provide clean energy to millions of Americans. From clean energy to space travel, Musk’s projects are creating substantial benefits for the world he inhabits.


But we can’t fall into the traditional trap of capitalism to assume that to do social good means to forfeit economic profits. Before the recent fall in Tesla’s market capitalisation, Elon Musk was crowned the richest man in the world ahead of Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos. Clearly, the multitude of projects he is working on, their economic and social success along with his clear business acumen mean that Elon Musk is flying high as a successful entrepreneur.


These visionaries boast a very important skill of social awareness. They recognise what’s going on. They can see what’s going on. But most importantly, they know how to fix what’s going on.

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