- Published on Tuesday, 15 May 2012 23:10
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The world is full of entrepreneurs. They operate on all levels, in all lines of work, and all over the globe. Though entrepreneurs may be hard to find in highly repressive countries like North Korea and Cuba, there are reports, that hidden deep in their society, they’re there.
Entrepreneurs often find opportunity where others could never have imagined it. In Washington, D.C., there was a former janitor for a government agency who didn’t like the mop and bucket setup his employer had given him to work with. He had a better idea. And so, for several weeks, in his garage, he tinkered and invented a revolutionary design for mops used in institutional settings. He patented it and then he started making and selling
them. He doesn’t mop floors any more, but he does make mops.
One of the most engaging stories of entrepreneurial talent was a report I heard on a Christian channel, about a man in West African fishing port, not a large place at all, who by using a network of friends and family, a barely functional Ford pickup, and a borrowed cell phone, was able to deliver fresh fish to the interior faster than anyone else.
His delivery concept caught on. And before long, he acquired a small fleet of beaten up cars and trucks, all with drivers who, for the first time in years, had jobs, and began a thriving fish delivery business.
Ah, but when it comes to business, small business, and that entrepreneurial spirit, there is no place like America. Of course, not everyone is going to invent a brand new product, service, or create the next social networking craze, but the desire to be in business for ourselves is part of the American character. It’s amazing to me, as I talk to people who work for large or small companies or the Federal government, just how many of them, even if they are the epitome of loyal company employees, have dreams of doing something on their own.
Sometimes, it’s as simple as starting a small business at home – or making and selling a product of some kind – or just performing a service many of us consider routine. A friend of mine, in high school, had just this kind idea when he was a junior. At age 17 he started a surprisingly successful lawn care business. While most of us wanted to enjoy the summer, he was out knocking on doors and looking for business, and, for much of the time, hiring other kids to work for him. He went to college, did well and graduated.
I suppose he figured his lawn mowing days were behind him. But this was 1980, and there were no jobs to be found for a college man. But he did know how to push a lawn mower, knew how to organize, and had a wonderful manner with his clients. Today, if I visit my Mom in Falls Church, which is now a pretty big area, I am not surprised to see one or more of his trucks. But what he did, while taking a fair share of guts and daring, wasn’t anything more than filling a niche, the ever growing number of new houses and buildings that needed grounds care.
Alas, he won’t be featured on 60 Minutes, profiled in Fortune, or on his passing, be eulogized in The Economist. But, maybe, he should be. His company employees a lot of people and has branched into home maintenance, and is thriving. He is doing more for his community, by making real jobs, than any government program ever will.
And I wouldn’t be surprised if more than a few of his employees, themselves taught entrepreneurial skills 101 by their boss, don’t go off and try going in to business on their own.
This may seem like nothing more than cute recollections of people who have succeeded on their own, developing business, or leveraging ideas, and doing well. But, that doesn’t always happen. Being in business, starting a business, is about the toughest thing in the world to do.
A friend of mine told me that when he started a hydroponics business (specially grown vegetables) back in the 1980’s, a little ahead of its time, that it was one disaster after another. He failed. But, a few years later, he came back, got a few new partners, and if you have hydroponically grown vegetables with your pricey dinner in Baltimore, they might be from his company.
It’s a curious factoid that most successful independent businessmen, no matter whether they get their hands dirty or work in an office, have failed in their endeavors at least two or three times. But, they keep coming back.
Right now, and I am beginning to believe it, we’re coming out of the recession. The signs are all around us. It’s not an even recovery, there are still problems in several sectors, and financing is still tough to find. However, jobs are being created. The Bureau of Labor Statistics will tell you this. And Virginia is leading the way.
But statistics are incredibly dull. The better indicator is when I hear about people I know, who had been out of work, or working part time, going back to work. The change in their demeanor, the easy smile, and the joy of doing whatever it is they do, is easy to see. Nothing solves social problems quite like a job. But, even more interesting is that most of the people I have talked to, and the researchers have found this too, aren’t necessarily working for big organizations. The people doing the hiring are small, sometimes very small, companies.
American politicians are wonderful at giving speeches lauding American small business and entrepreneurship. But, usually, government, while offering important services, like patent protection, a legal system, and a transportation infrastructure, doesn’t know when to stop.
Entrepreneurs are often, when it comes to overhead, the spouse of the person starting the business. Unfortunately, government can’t seem to control itself when it comes to requirements for filings, reports, and impact statements. And Heaven Help you if you’re late.
As for the IRS, I am the first one who thinks that everyone, no matter who you are, needs to pay up, but the complexity of filing for even the smallest of business is daunting. I know this from experience. Surely, as our economy, and community, come back to life, thanks to the enterprise, vision and hard work of our business community, we, and our politicians (who work for us remember) could make it a little easier on this sector by streamlining reports, doing away with many and making tax filings, just a little less onerous. That way, they could put their energies into their business, and not in satisfying a progressively oppressive regulatory and reporting environment.