Now, says Leonard A. Schlesinger, president of entrepreneurial mecca Babson College and former COO of Limited Brands, “people don’t fail. They pivot.” If the original business concept isn’t working, the entrepreneur tweaks it, until he or she gets it right—or realizes it was all wrong in the first place and tries something else.
In Just Start!, a new book Schlesinger coauthored, he looks at how serial entrepreneurs who built businesses with revenues ranging from $200 million to the billions—actually behaved when starting a business. And, contrary to the popular image of entrepreneurs as swashbucklers who routinely take crazy risks, many turned out to be pretty careful and analytical. “What surprised me, quite honestly, is the fundamental difference between the myths we structure for entrepreneurs and the reality,” he says.
The first thing serial entrepreneurs do when starting a business, the authors found, is to take a small, “smart step” toward something they desire to achieve. Next, they stop and reflect on what that action accomplished. Finally, they decide if they still want to move forward, given what they have deemed to be their “acceptable loss”—or, as Schlesinger put it recently— “how excited you are about an idea against what you have in time and money.” With each step they take, they go through the process again until they either bail out, shift in another direction or succeed. Of course, they act quickly. Moseying through the steps doesn’t work in a fast-paced, global economy.