We are entering the college football playoff period and there is a lot of talk about successful coaches and their coaching trees. A coaching tree is the geneology, if you will, of the influencers of successful coaches. Because it is relatively easy to track where successful head coaches played their college sports, served as graduate assistant coaches, and held their assitant coaching jobs, we have a pretty good idea which head coaches were their greatest influencers. So why don’t we have the equivalent of a coaching tree for successful entrepreneurs?
- The Entrepreneurial Process is Informal – Unlike the coaching ranks, the growth and progression of entrepreneurs isn’t tracked in a formal system. Coaching is structured, hierarchical, and is a formal job with an actual title that means something (not Chief Culture Curator). Entrepreneurship is relatively unstructured and, unlike coaching, there is no system that tracks where they are trained, what other companies they may have worked for, which companies they start or how successful they are (unless they reach an IPO).
- The Family Influence – Many successful entrepreneurs are influenced most significantly by their families. Studies have shown that around half of entrepreneurs have entrepreneurial parents or family members. Growing up in a family business can have a profound influence on entrepreneurs. Working in that business when they are young, understanding the entrepreneurial mindset and what it takes to be successful, and learning the language and concepts of business early on are clearly major influencers. For these successful entrepreneurs their most significant influences did not come from holding a formal position in another company or startup, but rather from being emersed in an entrepreneurial family with entrepreneurial friends.
- Entrepreneurship Is Not a Linear Progression – Coaching careers are relatively linear as players become graduate assistants, assistant coaches, and finally head coaches. Although some coaches go from head coaches at a small college or high school level to assistant coaches as a higher level, the progression is generally predictable. Entrepreneurs on the other hand, can take a relatively circuitous path to success. Some launch unsuccessful startups when they are young, go work for other companies to get experience and make connections, only to launch their own companies again later. Some start their companies right out of high school, learn what they need to know on the job and launch, run, and sell multiple companies throughout their life. Finally, others work in other large corporations, sometimes in the same industry, for 15 years or more before taking the leap to form their own company. While there are basic skills and experience required for success, their is no set formula for how to acquire them and no guarantee that having them will lead to success as an entrepreneur. If the journey is your goal, you are more accepting of the risk of failure.
THE TAKEAWAY: The good thing about entrepreneurial life is that there is no set path to success. The bad thing about the entrepreneurial life is that there is not a set path to success. Unlike entrepreneurs, one reason successful coaches got into coaching was that they like the structure and having a predefined path to success. While the maverick entrepreneurs will always forge their own path, I believe many entrepreneurs can expedite their path to success if they can tap into a somewhat structured system of skills and knowledge acquisition, work experiences, and true mentors. Despite the perception of the free wheeling, unbound startup culture, a little strategically placed structure and discipline is a good thing.