Author Ray Smilor Why you do what you do as an entrepreneur-and why we need you

You've been warned since the days of Play-Doh and Underoosthat it's a tough world out there. Now that you're finallyliving there, you can only look back on your scheduled nap times,mom-made PB&J sandwiches and yellow school-bus rides with aglimmer of longing and hope that someone, somewhere, might explainwhy you're caught up in an endless quest to build yourbusiness.

Dr. RaySmilor, president of the Foundationfor Enterprise Development, a La Jolla, California, nonprofitorganization dedicated to helping entrepreneurs develophigh-performing businesses, does just that in his new book,Daring Visionaries. From recapping thetribulations experienced by other first-time business owners toproviding us with his own passionate perspective on the secrets ofsuccessful entrepreneurship, Smilor provides a refreshing outlookon business ownership. Here, he sheds some light on theentrepreneurial mind-set. Whatcharacteristics should entrepreneurs possess?

Ray Smilor: Anentrepreneur's passion for what he or she does is the heart ofthe entrepreneurial process. Every entrepreneur I'veencountered has had this internal drive to do something that'sreally important to him or her. It's the sausage manufacturerin Kansas City who loves the sausage recipe his grandmother gavehim and wants to make that sausage for everyone in the world.It's the love of algorithms that K. Hammer has at EvolutionaryTechnologies in Austin, Texas-how she talks about the power ofalgorithms to organize data and information for companies. It'sthe love for what [you do] that helps [you] overcome obstacles,persist in the face of adversity, and handle the inevitable ups anddowns that come with an entrepreneurial venture.

"Anentrepreneur's passion for what he or she does is the heart ofthe entrepreneurial process." You alsotalk about selling in your book. How can entrepreneurs begin toembrace this task-and why should they?

Smilor: I think selling is apowerful skill that every entrepreneur has to have but is fearfulof. Really great entrepreneurs first sell themselves to investorsand others, then they sell the concept of their company toemployees, then they sell their product or service to customers.And really [great] entrepreneurs begin to see selling not as thishated skill, but as a skill that's essential to their successand the success of their company.

A way to make selling less painful is to see it for what itreally is. You're not forcing something on a person that theydon't want; you're helping somebody buy what they reallyneed. So the first step is to change your frame of mind about theskill of selling. Second, I think it's important [to be an]exceptional listener-to take time to listen to what the other partyhas to say, to what their genuine need is, to what the problem is.Then shape a response that solves the problem or meets the need.Third, I think [you need to] actually practice selling-get outthere and get better at listening, responding and probing-thosekinds of things make this most hated skill become quitenatural. In yoursection about kid entrepreneurs, you mention that merely teachingtoday's youth about business ownership as a career option wouldsatisfy you. Would you encourage kids to pursue their ideas at thatmoment in their lives, or would you recommend that they hold offuntil they finish their academic careers?

Smilor: I think it dependson the person. My suggestion is always to get involved with agrowth-oriented company, because you learn about what happens as acompany grows-and it makes people, perhaps, more prepared to dealwith their own company, when and if they decide to launch theventure. Having exposure to the entrepreneurial process is such agreat experience, because you have to create your own idea, presentsomething to others, communicate, help build a team and do thingsthat make you more well-rounded. That's why I thinkentrepreneurial education is so interesting today and why it'sso widespread, because it brings [students] into an experience thathelps them become a better person in the process. How do youthink entrepreneurs have impacted our society and the economy?

Smilor: I thinkentrepreneurs are the engines of our economy. They're the oneswho are generating a lot of the innovations today and pushing theboundaries of technology-they are challenging the ways we act andbehave and think. That kind of economic "churn," thatkind of innovation, is so vital to our economy. If you look atleading economists who are studying the work on innovation, theysee a direct link between the entrepreneur and the innovationprocess. I think that's why our economy is vibrant today: Wehave a culture that encourages entrepreneurship andrisk-taking-that tolerates failure and lets a person try again.That kind of environment is what we need for a really healthy anddynamic economy.

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