Commentary

Thoughts on entrepreneurship: The Seven Deadly Sins


7 deadly sinsMusing on the Seven Deadly Sins and their transposition to the world of entrepreneurship. These sins, also known as Capital Vices or Cardinal Sins, comprise a classification of the most objectionable vices that has been used since early Christian times to educate and instruct followers concerning (immoral) fallen humanity’s tendency to sin. The final version of the list consists of wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.” What are they to the world of entrepreneurship? Since we learn by our mistakes and failures, here are my observations relating to the excessive sins of entrepreneurship.

Wrath – We all get wrapped up in what we are doing and an entrepreneur is hyper-focused on their business. But product development, marketing, sales – the whole entrepreneurial endeavor – never goe according to plan, and entrepreneurs who don’t react professionally to the endless cycle of disappointments and defeats does not inspire his/her team to go the extra mile, to stick with it, to persevere in the face of constant rejection – which is what they need to do.

Greed – Entrepreneurs who focus too much on the end game suffer from missing the entrepreneurial point. Is the goal to change the world, to solve problems, or to get rich? Those who are focused too much on a successful financial exit can fail to build what creates value in the first place – a viable operating business. Of course, it’s usually not the entrepreneurs that are greedy; it is the VCs, who have been known to deserve the title vulture capitalists. VCs are almost completely focused on the exit to salve the LPs breathing down their necks, but the shorter term focus – three to five years – is often not long enough to start, build, and reap value.

Sloth – Entrepreneurs are rarely victims themselves of slothfulness. They are usually highly energetic, purposeful and decisive. But woe to the startup team which engages someone who does not share that core value of working hard. Because there is no way to shortcut the fact that hard work is always the basis of bringing an idea from concept to reality. Entrepreneurs recruiting team members should find ways of testing people as to their ability to work hard and long.

Pride – Entrepreneurs have to be proud of their vision, proud of their accomplishments, but some veer to the extreme into arrogance. And this turns everybody off. Since most successes stem from team effort not one person it is important for entrepreneurs to be team players and it’s unpleasant to be on  a team where one person is a jerk.

Lust – Entrepreneurs often fall in love with their solution without knowing if customers actually want or value that solution. Rarely do I see an entrepreneur that has done adequate homework on the MARKET opportunity. The lesson: do your market research, then do it again (because you can never do enough market research). Be customer driven, not product or technology driven.

Envy – Entrepreneurs vie for customers from someone – their competitors. Start ups compete for grants, contracts, investment – they look at the competition but they don’t always SEE the competition. Entrepreneurs in early stage companies have to be chauvinistic about developing competitive barriers and unfair advantages in their product and service offerings. They need to spend time reviewing and understanding the competition deeply so that they can differentiate themselves in the market. Of course, to do that, they have to UNDERSTAND the market!

Gluttony – The entrepreneurial culture can lead to over excesses including trying to do too much. Most successful businesses started off with a singular purpose and focus – one product that solved one problem. This can be labeled too nichey, but there is nothing like a good niche as a place to start. Expanding from a base of strength is always better than failing to get traction due to lack of focus.

I first published this on my Project Olympus blog at Carnegie Mellon University where I am involved in all things entrepreneurial.

 

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  • If you’re ever going to distance yourself from certain things, you definitely want to steer clear of deadly sins. It’s a good thing there are only 7. It seems like pride gets in the way a lot with entrepreneurs–they have a certain vision of what their product or business will be and that pride keeps them from seeing other alternatives and opportunities. Or they do see them, and they won’t admit it. I’d be curious to get your take on which sin is the deadliest of the deadly for entrepreneurs.