Entrepreneurs – A rare breed

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Scratch an entrepreneur, and you’ll find a hopeless romantic: passionate about their niche in the marketplace; optimistic that success lies just ahead, around the corner, up and over the rainbow, where a pot of gold awaits. “E” people are idea people, build a better mousetrap people. In short, they’re visionaries and innovators, pioneers who have fearlessly hitched the proverbial mule and are plowing their very own field of dreams.

Of course, there are different types and levels of entrepreneurs—mom & pop shop owners being the most easily recognizable. Drive down any street in small-town America and see the outward signs of unapologetic self-employment, usually marked by inspired monikers: Soozi’s Hand-Painted Gifts, Bill’s Worm & Bait Shop, Sally the Sew-Sew Seamstress, Mow-Town Lawn Services, or Robin’s Hand-Made Birdhouses. These are rugged individualists, who have chosen the road less traveled, weary of impersonal corporations with their slick Madison Avenue logos, sucking dry their creativity and ingenuity, while reaping all the benefits. They’ve abandoned the security of a weekly paycheck to escape the 9 to 5 routine, gladly working 70-80 hours a week, and often for less money, for the right to call themselves “boss.” They’ve discovered the secret to a happy workweek, and that independence is worth its weight in gold.

But not every entrepreneur needs a brick & mortar storefront to display their wares. Some prefer a Gypsy’s life. Like desert nomads, they carry their tents and clanking collection of merchandise with them in pick-ups and SUV’s. Setting up shop at flea markets, county fairs, and along country roads, any and everywhere they might catch the eye of a potential shopper passing by. Rolling the dice that the weather will be nice, they proudly show off their homespun crafts, homegrown produce, home-made yard art, hand-turned deer antler pens, and hand-picked bouquets of wildflowers, mason jars of local honey, baked goods, BBQ, and array of Wisconsin cheeses, all in the shade of pop-up offices, atop fold-up tables.

But there are unseen “E” people everywhere. A father of five retreats to his garage after putting the kids to bed, tirelessly tinkering away at his dimly-lit workbench, confident that his revolutionary gadget will someday save humanity. A buoyant part-time waitress hunkers over her coffee table till the wee hours, hunting & pecking out a future Pulitzer Prize-winning novel on her laptop. A spirited Grandmother energetically rocks and knits all the historic monuments in Washington DC, (to scale) convinced they’ll someday be a Smithsonian exhibit.

“E” people and their visions are as diverse and unique as snowflakes, but they all have one thing in common. They all believe the seed “that was planted in their brain,” as Paul Simon once said, will take root, sprout and grow into a beautiful money tree.

And it always begins the same way with a life-changing Ah-ha! moment. The instant inspiration struck like a lightning bolt, and new hope was born. Aristotle famously hollered, “Eureka!” when he got his big revelation. In Greek that means, “By golly! That’s a darn good idea!” It’s invariably followed by visions of instant success, untold riches, and global adoration.

Great ideas can happen anywhere and at any time, like clipping your nails, eating a sandwich, vacuuming, changing the baby. An infamously fertile place for conceiving a brainchild is in the shower. Unfortunately, a soapy finger on a steamy glass stall is an ineffective way of recording a fresh revelation. So, towel draped and half naked, you skip, drip and slip across the living room floor, as your spouse looks up from her Woman’s Day and gasps, “What the …?”  Ignoring the negative aspersions being cast, you continue your beeline to the kitchen utility drawer where you dig out a sharpie and legal pad, on which to scrawl your brilliant concept before it evaporates into the ether.

Seems the best ideas often come when the human mind is relaxed. Drinkin’ with the boys is another hot-bed for deep thought. Many-a-million-dollar idea has been spawned while sharing a leisurely pint with ones peers. The whistling winds of a brainstorm are often whipped up in an atmosphere of camaraderie, banter and free exchange. “Hey y’all, if we wrapped a Coke logo around our beer cans, we could drink while we drive!” OR, “Hey, a miniature shooting gallery in the urinal, might just improve a fella’s aim!” Believe it or not, both of those became actual products, enthusiastically brought to the marketplace by laser-focused “E” people. I’m pretty sure the Ronco Bottle & Jug Cutter, hubcaps that spin, and the classic banana hanger, (which I understand also does grapes) were all spawned in the same-sort-of atmosphere.

Sadly, after most of these world-changing concepts blow in, they are often allowed to simply blow away, like Forrest Gump’s feather, only to light upon someone more worthy…well, at least someone willing to act upon them. New rags to riches stories are written everyday, (As Seen On TV) featuring widgets and gizmos, hailed as the “next big thing,” “a great stocking stuffer,” and sometimes, “product of the year.” That’s when you regretfully groan, “why didn’t I think of that?” Or even more heart wrenching, “I DID think of that!” Ahh, but you never did anything about it. The saddest words ever etched upon a tombstone are “Coulda-Woulda-Shoulda.”

Persistence is the key. Many have made it big with ideas that are not that much better than spinning urinal ducks. The guy who reinvented the pillow for instance, (10 years in the making, no less) has now gone international and has been credited by the National Sleep Association with literally saving Mr. Sandman’s job! The guy who cut two inches off his shirttail is now being lauded as a genius by GQ magazine! I must admit, I laughed out loud when I first heard that one, but I’m not laughing anymore. I’m pretty sure I’ll be buying a whole new wardrobe soon, or forever be labeled an un-tucked slob.

We must resist the temptation to poo-poo ideas that at first glance seem frivolous. Nor should we consider these go-getters merely lucky. On the contrary, they are entrepreneurial champions! Heroes whose perseverance has moved the needle of public opinion and changed our entire culture. Their remarkable successes, with these less than Edison-like designs, are testimonies to persistence, monuments to stick-to-itivenesss, and should be an encouragement to every would-be entrepreneur.

Whether you invent, build, paint, write, sew, chop, saw or otherwise man-handle a product into existence yourself, or just ride piggy-back on someone else’s dream, (distributing and selling) you are to be applauded. You form the backbone of our society.  Y’all are the keepers of optimism’s flame—the spark that ignites the fuel that drives America’s economic engine. Bravo “E” people! You are most certainly a very rare breed.