Somewhere between sweating profusely under the blazing sun and riding full speed in a fishing boat off the Northern Coast of Colombia a few months ago, I was reminded as to why I am so utterly enamored with entrepreneurs: They have an insatiable appetite to learn and grow to see their vision realized. A lesson I learned in the least likely of places – on a boat.
Although my purpose in visiting the Fishing with Mobile Nets program in the country (an initiative of Qualcomm Wireless Reach) was to understand how technology is empowering local fishing communities, what I took away were invaluable entrepreneurship lessons from a handful of the kindest, hardest working, grateful souls I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.
If you are an entrepreneur and want to have an impact on the world, employ these tactics and you’ll have a better shot at not only building a sustainable business but also building strong connections with people and the planet while pursuing your profits.
1. Be consistent
Perhaps the most humbling and inspiring aspect of observing the local fisherman was their extreme dedication to consistency, even though they had no idea what the day would bring. Nonetheless, they were up at 3 a.m., on the beach by 5 a.m. and out in the water casting their nets by 7 a.m. Then, in the afternoon, a similar exercise. Day in and day out.
No complaining, no moments of feeling sorry for themselves when the day yielded very little fish. Rather, the knowing of another opportunity to fish -- the consistency of this -- kept them pushing forward. The same thing can be said for any entrepreneur. Consistency is imperative to build structure around the chaos or the unknown.
Imagine trying to scale a company in which the CEO demands meetings with his team at the drop of a hat or the engineers show up whatever days of the week they deem appropriate. It wouldn't work.
2. Utilize and appreciate every asset you have
The unspoiled entrepreneurs -- the ones who have rubbed nickels together to propel their ideas into the limelight -- have a unique ability to utilize everything around them toward their aim: resources, networks, technology, you name it. Instead of complaining about what they don’t have, they appreciate what they do have and say, “Look at all this! We have enough for now, and it’s perfect until something better presents itself.”
In the case of the Fishing with Mobile Nets fishermen, you guessed it: they didn't have much. Old boats painted over dozens of times, nets sewn and re-sewn over and over again, motors that could be fixed with a little spit and grease, were what they had to work with for the technology initiative. Despite not having the latest and greatest, they appreciated what they had and took advantage of their resources.
3. Understand how you fit into the community
In the Northern part of Colombia, particularly on the coastline, fishing is one of the key trades. Not only is it required to feed the local communities, but it also creates economic stability. The local fishermen understand their role, and how it directly impacts their community.
Modern-day entrepreneurship often misses the importance of building a community-oriented business, because many organizations aim for global scale and never see the direct impact “near and dear to home.” However, I do think this is something to keep in mind: while we may not see the direct impact our products or services have on our physical community, we would be best served to embrace our customer communities, strive to see how we can support them and enable them to thrive, while also building a profitable business.
4. Build an inclusive team of people you trust
The power of teamwork, for such a physically laborious thing as fishing, is outsized beyond anything I’ve ever observed. Many of the fishermen were in their 60s and 70s and had been working alongside each other for three decades. Beyond the work, they found extreme pleasure in teasing each other, laughing at inside jokes and finding joy throughout the day in the simple things. This ability to trust each other, to invest in each other day after day, is only found in an inclusive, emotionally connected group of people.
So if you think that building a culture of exclusivity and dog-eat-dog will get you far, I’d challenge you to re-think your philosophy. Entrepreneurship is often a long haul, and finding success requires an inclusive culture where trust exists at the core.
5. Be open to change
It probably goes without saying, but being open to change is what ultimately allows the entrepreneur to achieve greatness. If we remain stubborn, unable to draw outside the proverbial lines, innovation cannot thrive.
Watching a 71-year-old fisherman in the remote village of La Boquilla talk about how he uses technology to increase his profits, learn new things and interact with his grandchildren is a life lesson for us all. It’s never too late for change, and there is certainly no perfect environment for it.
As entrepreneurs, may we strive to implement the humility and hard work of a fisherman to build stronger, community-driven, inclusive companies that ultimately have the ability to adapt and change.
Here's a video of the fishermen at work: