At least, they seem to be so when tried and tested entrepreneurs get together and tell it like it is. Either they are just being down to earth and gritty, or academe is over-egging the pudding.
Even Raffi Amit, the academic director of Wharton's Goergen Entrepreneurial Management Programmes, offers a fairly basic view of the entrepreneurial creed. They don't have 'unique characteristics' and they aren't risk takers, he said. Instead they 'manage risk' well and know how to outsource it.
Anyway, here are the principal factors of success according to a number of entrepreneurs who attended the 2006 Wharton Entrepreneurship Conference.
The old chestnut about being an outsider was wheeled out again (not long ago Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop made the same point in an article in the FT). So if you're an insider or a straight sort of person, forget it. You need to find some way to be a bit more edgy. No doubt, people who feel undervalued or excluded or just plain different do tend to look for ways to prove their value to the world that was supposed to have rejected them. However, we hear this so often, it's beginning to sound clichéd.
Sam Hamadeh, the creator of Vault.com (which publishes information about jobs) said: 'Minorities, immigrants, gays and lesbians are all more likely to start businesses than other people.'
More interestingly, many of these entrepreneurs have little time for VC help. Hamadeh started his venture with $25,000 in credit card debt. VC support was usually not necessary and others said they were too hard to convince anyway. Farhad Mohit, who had come to live in the US with his family from Iran (making him a classic outsider) preferred the entrepreneurial route because he disliked conforming to the world of suits and bureaucracy. He set up the bargain hunter's website Shopzilla.com with some friends from Wharton. It sold for $525 million. Did he have a passion for shopping then? Not in the slightest. 'I had no interest in shopping,' Mohit said. "I was just solving a problem." Not very inspiring but it says it like it is.
For those rebels out there, Mohit has this advice: "Opportunities are all around you. Luck is everywhere. Just look around." This is reminiscent of the advice given by the publisher and poet Felix Dennis who featured in an A-list book of media personalities (published by Campaign magazine). Dennis said, paraphrasing, find out where the money is and 'go fetch'. It sounds so easy, and it begs the question why more of us don't become millionaires. But then there is that other old chestnut: entrepreneurs are optimistic people. And they need to be if they are going to 'go fetch'.
One entrepreneur, Jeff Citron, who has a penchant for setting up businesses based on disruptive technologies (he currently runs a company providing internet telephony) has some practical advice. Don't worry about adding lots of 'gee-whiz features' to your product. Just get it out to consumers as soon as possible. 'Remember the KISS rule: "Keep it Simple, Stupid," Citron said. 'Give your product to your mom. Can she use it without any problems? Then you're ready to go.' Obvious really, though Citron's mother might feel a tad patronised by her whizzy son.
So, you need to be an optimistic outsider (or make yourself one), rely on your friends, family or plastic for credit, keep it simple and, finally, try your luck. That is, perhaps, the key. Thomas Hardy once wrote a poem about seeing an attractive woman at a railway station but failing to take the chance to talk to her. Obviously, he felt annoyed at himself later and the sense of loss shaped the poem. In the end, the entrepreneur is the person who grabs as many chances as he can. You cannot learn that in books.
Review by Morice Mendoza