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  • Writer's picturePaul Hogendoorn

Challenging Times Are the Best of Times for Entrepreneurs

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

We all crave stability and certainty, but we live in unstable and uncertain times.


Its true that every generation has lived through instability and uncertainty and periods of disruption, but some (a small few) seem to thrive in these periods, while most seek to just survive them, hoping for things to return to normal.


Most periods of significant or accelerated change are ‘man-made’; they are wars, or political uprisings, or failures of economic systems or policies. Some may be attributed to technology, but technology was created and introduced to the world by engineers and scientists. Some may suggest that a recent virus caused great disruption and change, but viruses have been around long before humans existed - it was the human reaction (governments and policies) that brought on the change. (And there are some that argue that even this virus itself was man-made – but that’s a different topic).


The point is, major societal disruptions are all brought on by human events, and humans by and large endure, adapt, and look to find a way through, hoping for the same forces or influences (ie. governments and/or policies) that caused the change to provide a promise or return path to a stable, more certain future. But, in my experience, not the entrepreneurial leader. Their tendency is to rely more on themselves then on others.


When I look back at my 45-year career, launching and building companies, in times of economic certainty and stability, my companies did ‘ok’. There were a couple periods of great challenge, and these were the periods the companies grew the most. One example, in the late 90’s, my company was riding comfortably on the coat tails of its largest customer, which constituted over 40% of its revenue. The customer was growing quickly, and we were growing along with them, when we committed to make the biggest single investment that we would ever make. The future looked bright, and promising, and certain, so we committed to a new building project that would triple our debt. The bank liked the apparent certainty of our position, so land was purchased, and shovels were scheduled to hit the ground. But then our major customer hit an unexpected course altering bump in their road, and orders were cut in half. Our cashflow projections no longer continued steadily northwest, instead, they took a sudden turn to the southwest, with no return to previous levels promised in the foreseeable future.


We didn’t just survive it, we thrived because of it. A few short years later we built a second building to house a new division that we invested the energy and resources in that were freed up by the sudden change to our business landscape. We could have settled for just being a victim of our circumstance and aimed and hoped for basic survival, but we were entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurs, by their basic nature, want to create their destiny, not just follow along with the flow of it. In the years preceding this event, it was easy, and we just had to be astute businesspeople to succeed – the formula was simple: serve your customers well and mind your financial health. But in times of upheaval, that’s not enough; companies that do only those things slow down, “right size”, and baton down the hatches hoping to survive to better days. But many don’t; they fade away, get sold, or fold up completely.


Entrepreneurs don’t crave challenges and times of change, but they do embrace them. Entrepreneurial companies rise to the top when the heat is on and the pot is boiling. They are the first to come up with new services, new products, new ways to meet the needs of their customers, or new ways to acquire and win over new customers. We just have to look at how the transportation, retail and restaurant decks were shuffled the last four years to see the few who grew exponentially, and the rest of the players in their markets that barely held on – or didn’t.


“Necessity is the mother of invention”, as the saying goes, and entrepreneurs by their nature are inventive. And, they are also creative, persistent, (doggedly determined), and they are able to connect the dots loosely in their minds that are not yet visible to everyone else. Sometimes they struggle to communicate what’s clear to them to others, but entrepreneurs generally prefer to trust and rely on their inner compass rather than on solutions prescribed by governments, or even the consensus of others. That attitude in and of itself is not a guarantee for success, nor should it be considered a type of arrogance, it is simply just one of the key differences that makes them what they are - entrepreneurs.


Looking forward, there are many society altering changes and challenges looming on the horizon. There are aggressive environmental policies that may or may not be fully adopted; there are shifts in social values, erosions of borders, emerging technologies that don’t just do work for us but supposedly will be thinking for us as well. There are real problems, conflicts, and crises all over the world, and then there are those created or amplified by social media. In times like these, investors hedge their bets, most business owners look to baton down their hatches, and masses look to their governments and leaders for hope.


Entrepreneurs are wired differently; they don’t crave tumultuous times, but they rely on their instinct, inventiveness, vision, and innate desire to determine their own future to navigate through.


Changing times create opportunities to be found, and entrepreneurs thrive on opportunities. They are in the opportunities business.    




 

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3 Comments


thoughtsponsor
Jan 08

Really captures the essence of why entrepreneurs are so important to the economy - thanks for this!!

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Dennis Ho
Dennis Ho
Jan 03

Great sentiments!

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Ellen McLean
Ellen McLean
Dec 28, 2023

Nice article Paul. You are a good writer.

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