In the past few months, I have spent considerable time with entrepreneurs who are trying to take their concepts off the ground and build businesses. Although my previous experience is mostly in intrapreneurial initiatives, I am happy to be able to help the people I interact with. In return, these interactions are helping me identify similarities and differences between entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial initiatives.
Fundamental characteristics of intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs are very similar, if not identical. Personal and professional characteristics of entrepreneurs are frequently covered in traditional and digital media. In contrast, intrapreneurs attract less attention. While some simply define intrapreneurs as “entrepreneurs who work in a larger organization”, I think the differences are more pronounced. In an earlier blog post, I discussed the characteristics of intrapreneurs (https://ferhanbulca.com/2012/07/06/is-your-skin-thick-enough-to-be-an-intrapreneur/).
Intrapreneurs’ Effort Goes to Culture, Agility, Accountability and Communications
An intrapreneur’s biggest challenge is to create a new way of doing business in an existing organization. Clayton Christensen famously called it the “innovator’s dilemma” where new ideas get shot down to protect existing, albeit sometimes declining, businesses.
An intrapreneur’s largest effort goes into building agility and accountability in a culture built around an existing business. As Jim Collins stated in Good to Great, this effort increases if the existing business is successful. Collins summarized it as “… good is the enemy of great.” A well-functioning business will be more protective than one that is experiencing difficulties and challenges.
Once an intrapreneur establishes an agile, responsive and accountability-driven team, one of her main tasks become communications. In a larger organization, the number of stakeholders is much larger than the number of stakeholders an entrepreneur needs to interact with.
In comparison, an intrapreneur has it easier in a couple of areas: Access to resources and business savvy. Typically, a company that decides to undertake an initiative is prepared to provide necessary resources. In addition, larger organizations typically have easier access to internal and external business thinkers and leaders.
Entrepreneurs’ Effort Goes to Access to Resources, Business Savvy, Communications and Time & Financial Management
Entrepreneurs typically struggle to attract attention to their ideas and convert them to revenue-generating businesses. The chicken-and-egg issue arises at earlier stages where investment, and hence, resources, is only available if tangible results exist. However, producing tangible results require resources (money, skills, time, facilities, materials) that the entrepreneurs do not have.
Most entrepreneurs operate in a small circle of friends and like-minded individuals. They tend to be passionate about a topic. This passion brings extreme focus and motivation but may result in irrational dedication to a dead-end cause. We have all heard about or met an entrepreneur who has spent their life savings on a product that nobody wants. Knowing what ideas to pursue and how far to take them require a level of business savvy, which may be blinded by the passion and motivation of an entrepreneur.
Time and financial management is another challenge area for entrepreneurs. Guy Kawasaki states, “As a rule of thumb, when I see a projection, I add one year to delivery time and multiply revenues by 0.1.” (Ref. http://blogs.hbr.org/anthony/2012/08/the_planning_fallacy_and_the_i.html). Many great ideas never make it to market or lose out to competition due to poor time and financial management.
Entrepreneurs have it easier when it comes to culture, agility and accountability. Passion, motivation and size of entrepreneurial teams are conducive to the positive cultural attributes many larger organizations would love to duplicate. A committed team, where job descriptions, unions, structures, hierarchies do not exist, is capable of creating miracles.
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