Be Entrepreneurial Every Day

Mike Peña, Stanford University November 10, 2014

November is National Entrepreneurship Month in the United States. But if you have an entrepreneurial mindset, opportunities present themselves every day – whether for a new business, or even just learning something new.

The first step is noticing these opportunities. And while it may seem obvious that this requires paying attention to what’s going on around you, it is worth noting because we can all be blinded at times by our own beliefs. Inexperienced entrepreneurs can be especially prone to thinking that a personal epiphany is an opportunity, and unfortunately, pursue it without first verifying whether what they perceive is the reality.

Stanford Engineering Professor of the Practice Tina Seelig, a thought leader in the area of creativity and innovation, presented a new model that maps out the process for how ideas are brought to life and what is required at each stage. Called the “Inventure Cycle,” Seelig explains here how one must observe their surroundings before envisioning an opportunity:

Opportunities can also be found in places that others overlook or simply don’t care about. This doesn’t mean pursuing things that aren’t important, though. If you can bring passion and optimism to the table, you really can make an impact and even address one of the world’s great problems.

Take home heating and cooling. In the United States, the amount of energy needed to keep every house comfy and cozy is greater than the total amount of electricity generated by all the solar or nuclear plants in the nation. The letters H-V-A-C don’t signal sexiness, but clearly, attention is needed here.

That’s where Matt Rogers, co-founder and vice president of engineering of the smart-thermostat maker Nest, saw an entrepreneurial opportunity. And before that, when he was a new employee at Apple in 2005, he enthusiastically took on what was then considered just a side project: prototyping the iPhone.

Sticking with it at Apple showed how “intrapreneurial” he could be, and this video clip shows how well that experience prepared him to be an entrepreneur in the next chapter of his career. “I think I’ve built my entire career – actually, probably my entire life’s work – on things that no one cares about,” Rogers says. “And I’ve actually done really well doing it.”

Even for the entrepreneur who has already launched a startup, day-to-day activities can lead to new opportunities if you’re observant and take action. That was certainly the case for the founders of the ticketing service Eventbrite.

When they spoke last month at the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar Series, the wife-and-husband team Julia and Kevin Hartz recounted how their business goal evolved. Initially set on taking down market leader Ticketmaster, they soon realized the opportunity lying just beneath the tip of the iceberg: all the everyday events that need ticketing.

“It’s everything you do in your everyday life where you gain access … cooking classes, yoga seminars, obstacle races,” Julia Hartz says in the clip below. “Capturing this opportunity that wasn’t from the get-go very attractive is why Eventbrite is here today, and why we’re seeing the growth that we’re seeing.”