What Entrepreneurship Means to Me
Blog Post by ELP Student Justin Kula (Industrial and Operations Engineering | Class of 2022)
One of the most central tenets of modern physics is the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics ~ electrons do not exist in discrete orbits, but rather in clouds of probability-densities representing where they most likely are at any given time. The famous Heisenberg uncertainty principle defines the relationship between an electron’s position and momentum: that the knowledge of one necessitates ignorance of the other. In my experience, this duality of modern physics, the analytical and the probabilistic, represents entrepreneurship magnificently. Physics is multifaceted and often encompasses opposing views of the same phenomenon until experimentation disproves one view or the other. Similarly, entrepreneurship, with its unfailing focus on iteration, is really just another form of experimentation. Entrepreneurship encompasses strict execution with wild adjustments to focus, reject and/or re-frame the project
Being an entrepreneur means running forward at maximum speed while maintaining stillness of vision. Entrepreneurs need to be able to see through the fog of modern life with all its distractions, and distil the truly important from the trivial. Entrepreneurs have to work every day, giving everything they have, while also maintaining their personal health and long term capacity to avoid burnout. An Entrepreneur needs to set small goals extracted from the bigger picture, become myopic, and achieve each milestone — only to return to the broader view and remember that there are 26 miles to the marathon, not just the mile they just completed. This skill is critical especially in the engineering sense, because an engineer needs to constantly test the boundaries of their creativity, and keep pushing forward toward the larger goal. The ability to not get bogged down by a small problem, and instead just look to the future, is a critical trait for success. Entrepreneurship requires that we take ownership of our own path, and set our roadmap ourselves, which presents the opposite problem to finite execution. How do I slow down and maximize at a high level, as opposed to optimizing one single facet? How do I triage my priorities to make sure I’m doing what is truly important, while not neglecting unpretentious tasks that will help prevent failure in the future? It is this big picture vision that needs to be justified with procedural execution to achieve truly great results.
Another important facet of entrepreneurship is the balance of faith and observation. Few startups succeed with the fine details of their original vision, unless the original vision is so broad to the extent of providing no direction. Iteration is the process of finding a new path by which to pursue a new vision, and can come in a variety of forms; although it is usually built around a change in perspective. When we shift our perspective from our vision to the surrounding facts, we can often make a successful improvement. The reason we don’t see much iteration as a part of a vision is that we usually see the problem as a matter of strategy, and we don’t usually think that it could be solved by a change of strategy. Yet, a change of strategy is the best way to change direction, and it can often lead to an important new perspective. Knowing when to quit, when to pivot, and when to persevere is an essential skill for an entrepreneur, and I think an essential question is whether this is truly a learned skill or just luck which we attribute as a skill to the successful.
Entrepreneurship, to me, is the union of two facets of my life ~ practicality and theory. To be an entrepreneur, you need to do well with people, affect results, manage crises, but also build products, handle engineering problems, and fight technical fires. You can’t be purely practical, and you can’t be purely academic, you need to be both. This is easier today than it has ever been in the past, with one engineer being able to construct an entire company in 12 months, with little more than a keyboard and a credit card. The agency afforded by our environment today is incredible, and rewards those who can hold the two opposing dispositions of “ought” and “is” in tandem, choosing the applicable one in any given context. Entrepreneurship to me is the ability to use both sides of your mind: doing the hard stuff, and the artful stuff.
Entrepreneurs are often viewed as the cowboys of modern industry, Entrepreneurship is touted as the place where the brilliant and reckless hang their hats, the home of the dreamers. The flip side is that the day-to-day operations of a venture are mostly mitigating risk: maximizing reliability, eliminating failure points in the sales funnel, and making sure customers are thrilled. Very little effort is spent on taking risks when it comes to execution, because the biggest risk is the big picture. Are we doing something that needs to be done, or are we completely wrong?
Are we reckless, or are we risk averse? The answer is a definitive yes.