What is Entrepreneurship?

“If you wanna win, it’s gonna hurt.” NBA Coach Jason Kidd to his Jazz team during a tough, must-win playoff game.

“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” Confucius

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At 21, I was one of the co-founders of the basketball brand AND 1.  I am now close to 46.

I meet with, and am energized and inspired by, entrepreneurs nearly daily. The number of smart, small teams of dedicated, hardworking people pursuing a dream amazes me. I have learned from all of them – their successes, and as often, their failures.

So many of them are very, very smart – often more technical or intelligent than we were. But interacting with them is equally likely to inspire and frustrate me.   And so I want to write a little bit about why AND 1 worked, to the degree we did – and what I’ve learned from 25 years as an entrepreneur or advisor and observer to them.

To quote a popular saying to first year Medical Students at Harvard, at least ½ of what I tell you will be false by the time you graduate (or finish this paper) – I just don’t know which half. (Although in my case, it may only be 1/3rd that is true).

To begin with, let’s start off with some definitions.

First off, what is entrepreneurship? Traditional academics tell us that:

“Entrepreneurship is the process of creating something new with value by devoting the necessary time and effort, assuming the accompanying financial, psychic, and social risks, and receiving the resulting rewards of monetary and personal satisfaction and independence.”   (Source 12).

But, I prefer Steve Blank’s new definition for what a start-up is:

“A start-up is a temporary organization in search of a scalable, repeatable, profitable business model.”

In this view, start-ups are a set of continues experiments looking to find and grow a scalable business model. They are fundamentally different from ‘big companies’ as they exist to execute a repeatable process of testing and iteration until you find a product that the market loves and that large numbers of consumers want – and a repeatable way to find and ‘land’ those customers and get them to buy your product – and a team and organizational structure to manage these processes at scale.

Technology is the sector that gets the most press and interest around these issues because of its sheer ability to scale, but consumer products and fashion – particularly ‘disposable’ fashion is another sector where such rapid experimentation and innovation is possible – and where new companies are continually born.

For the past several decades, many countries and their leaders have been looking to entrepreneurs as the critical risk-takers, job creators and process, service and goods innovators who drive economic growth and innovation.

Business schools have responded with courses.

And so I want to share AND 1’s story in the hopes that it can help other start-up founders.

And in my view, “winning” in entrepreneurship is nearly always a story of wanting it so badly that it hurts. Sometimes a lot.

In less than ten years, entrepreneurship both made me a multi-millionaire and put me in the hospital, and seriously jeopardized my health.

It gave me some of my greatest career ‘highs’ and some of my life’s lowest lows.

And I was not alone. This isn’t just my story. AND 1 was a team of hundreds of people who came together around a very specific vision and in a very specific time period, to build something special – even if it wasn’t world changing in the global sense, it was for many of the people who participated.

For a brief period of time, for people who were into basketball, we helped launched a global movement. This is our story. So, what did I learn from all this?

Resilience.   We had it.  And a whole bunch more.  Here’s some musings.