Graduate Blog / Graduate Admissions

Are you a gambler or an entrepreneur?

Most people quickly and easily associate entrepreneurship with taking risk. During my undergrad days, any daring student who tried to make a quick buck to fuel those teenage impulses, was considered entrepreneurial. However, I feel that such an assumption is far from reality. In fact, I believe the truth is the exact opposite and here’s why.

Let’s take the case of the above-mentioned daring students itself. Some peers I knew, thought that they could print and sell many t-shirts to classmates as long as it had the name of the college on it. They thought at least half the students in the college would buy it but eventually only a quarter did, leaving behind a few hundred unsold t-shirts. How could they get it wrong with their own classmates and college?

Importantly, the entire decision making process lasted just 30 minutes, within which five students discussed the possible vendors, average cost price, potential selling price and then just decided to print. Bang, bang, bang! In short, these students bet on a possibility that could make them a quick buck and went ahead on an impulse. I believe that such a course of action is referred to as gambling, not entrepreneurship.

It won’t surprise me if those five students go on to become awesome entrepreneurs one day. However, at that stage, I think they were just plain gamblers. Entrepreneurs are different, in every sense of the word, thought and action. And one of the stark differences between a gambler and an entrepreneur is his approach towards taking risk and handling its consequences.

For e.g. a gambler bets randomly for instant gratification but an entrepreneur is in for the long haul and takes calculated risks. A gambler probably did not know an hour ago that he was going to lose or win so much while an entrepreneur spends hours thinking about his plans. This difference makes an entrepreneur a man with a plan. When the plan becomes purposeful, it makes him a man with a mission. The only thing he can now see is his end goal. That goal coupled with his persistence is what makes an entrepreneur a visionary, something a gambler is not.

Secondly, entrepreneurs are not necessarily bold, daring and impulsive. We may think so but that’s only because we don’t see the vital data, the underlying possibilities and the entrepreneur’s assumptions. In fact we do not see why their hunches will work because we are not looking. Only visionaries look and that’s why they see things we don’t see. Truth be told, we all see it, just that they look at it in ways we don’t. Steve Jobs first talked about the iPad in 1983. A quarter century later, time and technology proved him right and declared him a visionary.

Most people who heard Steve Jobs talk about the iPad in 1983 declared him bold, daring and impulsive. Some even called him mad, crazy and delirious. But Steve Jobs was none of that. In fact, he did not release the iPad anytime soon. Rather, he spent years validating his idea, beautifying its design and waiting for the right market conditions. Importantly, entrepreneurs know when to act and when not to. An iPad in the 90’s with struggling Internet speeds, would have died in a day. Successful entrepreneurs act when they are certain, not when they are hopeful. Those who tried their luck and became successful were just gambling.

Thirdly, there are no born entrepreneurs; they are all made. Surely, entrepreneurs belong to a different tribe, but they were not born that way. All of us were born with the same amount of knowledge and wisdom. Entrepreneurs, however, learn from their mistakes, can be taught and are not afraid to fail. If and when they fail, they fail fast so that they can try again and try differently till they succeed. Bill Gates fared miserably with Traf-O-Data but he failed fast, learnt from his mistakes and came back to co-found Microsoft and rewrite history.

Babson College has been teaching, making and transforming entrepreneurs for over ninety years now. I have been at Babson for just a few months but now I can quickly distinguish an entrepreneur from a gambler. Gamblers want to play to win while entrepreneurs know when to play so that they will win. So the next time you play poker with an entrepreneur, be extra careful if you want to bet randomly because your opponent is not just playing, he is calculating.

With triple aces up my sleeve,

Kurian Babykutty