I recently had the opportunity to meet with and work with an amazing group of female entrepreneurs in Karachi, Pakistan through the World Bank-funded WomenX Program. It’s a program where existing female entrepreneurs are given intense business training at a local university to help them grow their businesses to the next level. Their stories of passion, drive, and determination, in spite of extreme hardships, are testament to their dedication and business visions.
Through my interactions with them I was able to both teach and be taught. Their attitudes were contagious and their souls courageous. Here are a few lessons I learned from these women who are working so hard to make a name for themselves and their businesses in a very patriarchal society.
1. Impervious to pain
Entrepreneurs have a greater tolerance to pain than most. They are able to work long hours, go without food and drink longer than most can handle, and push their bodies to the limit as far as travel is concerned. Forbes notes that “Entrepreneurs have a greater capacity for pain and discomfort than most. They can stay up later, work longer hours, stay more focused and, somehow, are able to set so much aside in deference to their dreams and visions.”
But there’s much more that sets them apart.
2. Bird in hand
What makes most entrepreneurs truly entrepreneurial is that they can look at their available resources and determine a way to fill a need and pin point for their customers, even by using very limited resources. This is known as the “bird in hand” approach. Entrepreneurs see a need and then look at the resources they already have around them to fill that need – coming up with creative uses and solutions to the problems they see.
Most entrepreneurs start out with very limited resources – and it can take years and even decades to grow their businesses into the brands we know them as today.
Roxanne Quimby, the co-founder of Burt’s Bees line of products, got her start in 1984 selling candles that she made from discarded beeswax. She traveled around Northern Maine and sold the candles at local fairs and a few loyal customers out of the back of a beat up pickup truck. She used to net a few hundred dollars in profit per load.
Ms. Quimby used the resources she had in hand to create a new product using mostly free and easily available raw materials and resources. Even as she grew she refused to buy raw materials on credit for decades. It was a strategy that served her well until she grew her business into a multi-million dollar enterprise, finally selling it for $925 Million in 2007.
3. Affordable loss
Another quality that entrepreneurs have is that they always know, seemingly instinctively what their affordable loss is in any situation.
Having an intimate knowledge and understanding of their growing business helps them make quick and intuitive business decisions when needed – and in the world of business they are needed often. It’s a quality that many more calculated businessmen and women may not quite understand. In many businesses accounting sheets are king, and reports are needed before any important business decision is made – bringing all the facts and figures before the board members and allowing them time to deliberate and weigh in on any decisions.
However a true entrepreneur, usually also the lone decision maker, operates on instinct. She goes with her gut on important business decisions, but she also knows exactly how much she can lose in each twist and turn of her business and still keep moving forward. This concept is known as an affordable loss – how much a company can afford to lose and keep moving forward towards their long-term goals.
4. Cultivating patience
All entrepreneurs need to possess immense patience. It’s difficult and challenging to at the beginning and it’s also true that many businesses fail to take off. Some women have willingly chosen the path of entrepreneurship. Others were forced into it by a series of challenging life circumstances like job losses or a chronic illness of themselves or a family member. Other hardships may have included things like overwhelming student debts, something a disproportionate amount of women face, that were affecting their credit score, and making traditional nine-to-five employment impossible.
5. Embracing creativity
No matter how we got to this point, and despite the risks, entrepreneurship is an option for those forced out of, or fed up with, corporate ladder climbing. For those who choose this path it’s heartening to remember that entrepreneurship also allows for more intense creativity, especially when we are developing a healthy competition in existing markets and industries. In fact, creativity is the most important quality an entrepreneur can have.
When entrepreneurs play to their strengths, and fully embrace their high tolerance for pain, their resourcefulness, and tap into their innate intuition and creativity, they are sure to overcome both their own self-doubts and their competitors as well.