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A positive state of mind is essential for success


Accentuate the positive: Eamonn Quinn.  Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Accentuate the positive: Eamonn Quinn. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Accentuate the positive: Eamonn Quinn. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

NATURE or nurture? Parents often ask this about their children, and business people often ask: how do we create more entrepreneurs? Like many things in life, the answer is not black and white.

I have just finished filming Dragons' Den, the sixth Irish series, with my other four Dragons.

So, it is a good time to consider what makes an entrepreneur and what drives me to back the talent of today.

As a background, it's useful to look at successful global companies and learn some lessons from them.

Let's start with some known facts, as Donald Rumsfeld might say. I would like to start with some of the habits that normally guarantee failure. Don Keogh, former CEO of Coca Cola, used to give a humorous but hard hitting speech which later became a book in which he outlined the guarantees of failure for any business.

Some of these practices include never taking a risk, blaming others, including the weather, for poor performance, being concerned about who will get credit for success and always allowing consultants to make decisions for you. You can read the rest of his gems in his book The 10 Guarantees of Failure in Business.

So now we know what to avoid. Is there a formula for success? Unfortunately not, is the answer. In my opinion, entrepreneurship is a state of mind.

Charles H Dwell, the commissioner of the US patent office, famously declared in 1899, "Everything that can be invented has been invented."

I would suggest that Mr Dwell may not have been capable of becoming an entrepreneur with that mindset. To some an entrepreneur has to be out on the edge, being radical and completely disruptive. To be sure Henry Ford changed the manufacturing world with his approach to mass production, but I don't believe you have to be quite so dramatic to consider yourself an entrepreneur.

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa captures a softer entrepreneurial spirit with his line: "If we want things to stay the same then things will have to change."

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If we think of Bill Gates and Microsoft back in the mid-Nineties, he was the world's wealthiest man – having invented the personal computer. He initially dismissed the internet as irrelevant as it was too slow and, in his opinion, customer experience was poor.

Within a few months he did a complete u-turn and reorganised the company with the internet at the centre of the strategy. He was listening to his people and had realised that he was wrong. Things have remained the same, as he is still the world's richest person today.

None of us know if our ideas are going to change the world as Bill Gates or Henry Ford have, but the important point is to have those ideas and challenge the world around us.

The exciting thing looking at the entrepreneurs that come through the Den is that they come from all walks of life and all educational backgrounds.

What sort of things will make you more likely to get an investment? I do believe there are some practices that can swing the balance in your favour.

Being prepared to work hard is something that is a common thread through out most successful entrepreneurs, particularly in the early stages of a business when you end up having to do a lot yourself. So energy and drive is something that will definitely need to stand out.

Are you able to listen?

It's not unusual to see individuals with great drive but with no ability to listen or accept that something is not working.

There are cases where very strong-willed individuals have triumphed, but, they are the exceptions and will probably lead to a bust-up of some sort.

Steve Jobs was said to have 'reality distortion' when setting his team unrealistic goals, and was fired from his own company – only to return later to save it. Not your standard case study but a great read nonetheless.

Stay focused and pop your head out of the forest every now and again to see if you're still going in the right direction. Typically new companies are following leads of various chances of success but if that good looking prospect is dragging out then it might be time to refocus on a brighter prospect.

Learn from the market. Assuming that you're not intending to build a Large Hadron Particle Collider, most ideas can be tested in the market place or at the very least in small research groups.

Your immediate family and close friends are not considered an independent research panel as they will be motivated to please, especially if you have put a lot of work into this idea. The marketplace is a great resource and you will learn a lot, especially that what you value highly might not be what others value.

My final thought is that you need to be prepared to fail. The most vulnerable time for a new business is in the early stages, where one delayed order or a product failure can drag a business under.

In building a chain of stores, going from one to two stores is a doubling of the company overnight. This can be a very risky time. Every store after that is a reduced risk. Someone who has made a few mistakes and, importantly, learned from them is a very valuable asset.

Dragons' Den is shown on RTE One, Sundays, 9.30pm

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