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How to Think Like an Entrepreneur

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John Danner is a Lecturer of two MBA courses in venture development at Haas School of Business, University of California. Danner has over 30 years of professional experience advising and managing both large, complex organizations and emerging start-up ventures. He served as a management consultant and worked in a diverse array of industry settings, from energy and healthcare to consumer products and multimedia. Dinner spoke with ExecEd on how to think like an entrepreneur.


ExecEd: I wanted to start out with getting some of your insights about what it means to be an entrepreneur within a larger organization. Is there an entrepreneurial mindset that one can adapt to the larger organization?

John Danner: Yes there absolutely is. In fact I'm in the middle of writing a new book with another co-author on exactly this issue, which is the question of what is it about the personality types of successful entrepreneurs that prospective entrepreneurs, whether they're inside an existing corporation, or outside might begin to model, in order to improve their odds of success? The bottom line answer is yes, and the question is what? What are those characteristics? Part of it is a function particularly inside a Corporation, of how do you fit or align what you want to do from a new business perspective into the strategic framework and priorities of the host company, because often times that's a challenge that an outside entrepreneur doesn't have to worry about, after all an outside entrepreneur is basically waging war against incumbents who are already established.

If you're trying to build a business from the inside of an existing organization, you have to show how it makes sense for the strategic arc of that company to embark upon a new and potentially higher risk initiative around creating a new venture to build value for customers and investors. That having been said, with a couple of other differences around where you get your money from, obviously most inside entrepreneurs are not worrying about going to venture capitalists, or angel investors, they have theoretically access to their own internally finance-able sources.

With those exceptions, the kind of skills that it takes to build a team that is inspired by the vision for the business, the kind of translation, and missionary skills that it takes to convert early customers into real partners of your business, how you align the interests of the venture with the interest of your backers, those are very similar regardless of where you're launching your business from.