Throughout history, there have always been entrepreneurs; they've just not always been called that. They create new things, and they bring the future faster to the present.
It’s because of entrepreneurs that the world moves forward. When the main mode of transport was the horse and carriage, entrepreneurs were working away on combustion engines and cars.
From the printing press to the microprocessor, they invent the disruptive technologies of their day and expand the pie for the rest of society.
They don't do it alone, of course. Good entrepreneurs – those who are really worthy of the name – encourage every member of their team to make their best contribution. The “train driver” deals with the headwinds, storms and near-death experiences, carries the freight, pays the tolls,
stays on track and puts in the hard miles – but everyone else is also just as essential to the smooth running of the train. Without engine maintenance, new design features, consistent cabin service and so on, the train would come to a grinding halt. A driver without a train crew is like a football captain without a team.
For all entrepreneurs, the line between success and failure is very thin. History shows us that the best ideas don't always win. The best technology doesn't win either – otherwise we would all be flying in Concordes instead of jumbo jets.
To bring new products and services to market, you have to tune into the market. You have to watch how people use your product or service. You have to listen to their complaints and imagine, build and deploy. And you have to change the way the game is being played. Take the late Apple founder Steve Jobs. His ultimate legacy does not rest on the beautiful products his company makes but on the revolutionary business models he invented. He opened up the music industry with the iPod, iTunes and framework that involved everyone – the artist, the listener, the label and, of course, Apple – in a piece of the action.
You can’t just project your vision; you have to market it and rally support. Just look at how Martin Luther and his allies, nearly 500 years ago, took the new media of their day – pamphlets, ballads and woodcuts – and circulated them through social networks to promote their message of religious reform. Luther’s “start-up” – his version of Christianity – survived because of his courage and marketing.
Entrepreneurship also takes persistence. Michelangelo had to face down the Medici family; Christopher Columbus had to take on Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. I remember when modern-day entrepreneur Alastair Lukies, the CEO of global mobile-money firm Monitise, texted me one Friday in 2006: “102 meetings, 67 nights away from my wife, but we got the deal. We have a client.” Few people will view that as rational behaviour. No-one “normal” goes to 102 meetings to win a single client. Only an obsessed entrepreneur who ends up changing the world does that.
Some people just keep going where others give up. Their obsession and their focus create benefits for the whole of society. Those are the real entrepreneurs.
Julie Meyer is the founder of Ariadne Capital and the author of Welcome to Entrepreneur Country: What it is, How to find it, Why you should go there, published by Constable Robinson and available on Amazon UK.