Can you train yourself to be an entrepreneur? Silicon Valley’s longest serving CEO says ‘yes’ and explains how.
Guy Smith: Hello once again and welcome to the Tough Things First podcast where we sit down and have a chat with Silicon Valley’s longest serving CEO, Mr. Ray Zinn. Today we’re going to be covering what I know is the topic dear to his heart, how does one become an entrepreneur and can you actually train yourself to be an entrepreneur. I know that this tickles ray because through some philanthropic outreach, he’s coaching the next generation of entrepreneurs at various college campuses around the country. He is the epitome of Silicon Valley entrepreneurship. So hello Ray. How are you doing today, sir?
Ray Zinn: Staying dry. Staying dry. So yeah, it’s been an interesting winter, one of the winter winters we had here so. Well, good to have you back with this Guy.
Guy Smith: It’s always a pleasure for me to be here. So let’s dive in and talk about some natural entrepreneurs, some entrepreneur wannabes. What separates those two creatures? What defines the natural entrepreneur and what defines the wannabe who maybe someday become one but isn’t quite ready for primetime?
Ray Zinn: Well, we are all entrepreneurs, so we’re all naturally entrepreneurs in that we do create, innovate and negotiate. So we’re all entrepreneurs. The differences between one that is willing to step out and run his own company, and I think that’s what you’re referring to, is the passion. Now not the passion to follow your passion, it’s to be passionate about what you do. I had a friend of mine who work for IBM, he’s a senior fellow at IBM, and when I was starting Micrel, he would ask me to tell him the story, “Tell me the story. How’d you start the company? How’d you do it?” I remember as a kid admiring various business leaders like John D. Rockefeller and so forth then that had made millions of dollars and I wondered how they did it. How does one get to the point where they’re like an icon? Whether like a Thomas Watson at IBM? Or how do you do it? How do you just start a company?
This friend of mine who worked at IBM, he loved to hear the story, but he just couldn’t see himself starting his own company. So that’s the difference. That doesn’t mean you’re not an entrepreneur. It just means that to be able to start your own company and see it through is a different kind of an entrepreneur, as you would. Maybe call it a business entrepreneur. So all of us, everybody listening to this podcast is an entrepreneur. It’s just that their risk factor, what they’re willing to put up to start their own company and go out on their own is the thing that we need to talk about today, Guy.
Guy Smith: Well, yeah. I think you dovetailed quite nicely into that with that story about that friend of yours who could not see himself becoming an entrepreneur. Was it some sort of fear factor that was holding him back?
Ray Zinn: Well, it’s a combination. It’s not just the fear because there’s always fear when you start your own company and though you’re excited there’s still some degree of fear. It kind of reminds me of wild buffalo hunting in Africa. I mean, you’re excited about going on there, but there is some fear because they’re dangerous animals and they will kill you. So there’s the excitement and then there’s the fear. So when I started Micrel, there was some degree of fear, but there was … The excitement had to overrule the fear or I wouldn’t have started the company. So in the case of my friend at IBM, his excitement wasn’t high enough to overcome the fear. So you can see, you need to have more excitement than fear.
Guy Smith: Well, maybe that’s the essential paradigm because a lot of people have a lot of ideas about a business or a product and they never seem to have that over the top enthusiasm for that. For some people, maybe their reaction to fear is just astronomical and not even having the next Google in their head is going to get them over that fear. But for other people, they’re just not in love enough with their idea that that will get them past that.
Ray Zinn: Well, it’s kind of like the … I use the example of hunting cape buffalo as an example, but maybe some of you can appreciate parachute jumping. I mean, some people just love to jump out of the airplane and parachute jump and to me, there’s no way I could do that. My excitement is not great enough to overcome my fear of jumping out of an airplane and hoping that flimsy cloth opens up and I float gently to earth. So that’s the key here is that a great deal of excitement. I mean, if I were really, really excited about jumping out of an airplane, I’d say, “Heck with a fear. Open the door. I’m out of here.” How’s that? It’s pretty good, it’s a poem. So heck with the fear. I’m out of here. So anyway, that’s kind of what it takes. You got to be more excited than you are fearful.
Guy Smith: I’m glad you brought up parachuting. You made me think about a friend of mine who I haven’t seen in years. When I first met him, he said, “Oh yeah, well I used to parachute.” I said, “You don’t anymore?” He said, “No, I’m waiting for my son to turn 18 years old.” I said, “That doesn’t make any sense to me.” He says, “They do not sell life insurance to people who actively jump out of airplanes and I need to keep life insurance until he’s on his own.”
Ray Zinn: That’s interesting. Well, I mean, there are … Yeah, I mean, I don’t know. I think there’s more people killed in automobile accidents than jumping out of airplanes, but certainly, I know a friend, not a friend, but I know of someone who was spelunking. It’s means that cave diving and he got caught in a cave and he ended up dying because he got wedge in there and couldn’t get out. You can get killed doing a lot of things. The first thing that will kill you as an entrepreneur is if you don’t have the passion and the excitement to see it through. So that’s the key of being a consummate entrepreneur is your ability to have more excitement, passion than the fear of failing.
Guy Smith: In just a second, I want to talk about reducing fear. Before we do, I want the audience to, if they have not already, go get a copy of Ray’s book, Tough Things First. This is an [inaudible 00:08:23] about being an entrepreneur, about running your business, about leading people. One of the magical parts about this book is it is a fear reduction publication. If you are thinking about starting a business but you’re fearful of what it takes to start a business, read this book because there are so many elements in here that will get you past those fear points, including what I thought was one of the best analogies I had ever heard, which was how entrepreneurs navigate through the dark room of unknown business issues.
Ray, in this book, is going to basically train you up and get you past these fears because you’re going to be a gifted with the knowledge of how to go about it, but also why these things should not make you fearful to begin with. So Ray, aside from just reading your book, what can somebody who’s sitting on the sidelines but is kind of itching to become an entrepreneur, what can they do to train themselves up so that they will have less fear and will have that confidence and all that optimism that is so necessary to being a good entrepreneur?
Ray Zinn: Well, without trying to over push my book, I’m going to tell a quick story. This fellow who’s up in his years now, he decided … Well, I think, I’m trying to remember now, maybe his son gave him the book and he was reading it and he happened to catch me one time in a meeting and said that, and he had tears in his eyes, he said, “If I’d had this book when I started my company, I wouldn’t have gone bankrupt.” I said, “Well, why is that? Why would this have made a difference?” “Because,” he said, “This book would have given me the confidence and the know-how to succeed.” I think that’s the key, again, without trying to over push the book. It gives you that confidence and that awareness of what it means to or takes to succeed. That’s the key of the book.
Now, that it’s not a guarantee, just because you read it, you just say, “Oh, my guaranteed success.” No. It just means that it helps you understand the parameters. I tell my students that I teach there’s four courses that they really need if they want to enhance their chances of succeeding in business. The one is as economics. Second is accounting, basic accounting. Third is business law. The fourth is financial and managerial accounting, which is really knowing and reading and understanding income statements and balance sheets. Those are the four courses, the core courses that will definitely help them. I think almost all these courses are available online or through your community colleges.
So even though, yeah, you might not have a university around that you can go to, there are college classes available either online or in your community where you can take these four classes. It may take you, if you took one or two a semester, it may take you a year. But those four courses will definitely help you and give you that knowledge base that will assist you in running your business.
Guy Smith: Well, I’m so glad that you said that because I think one thing that holds a few entrepreneurs back is this weird notion that they need an MBA from Stanford in order to be able to be a successful entrepreneur, and the fact is that you don’t even have to be a full time student pursuing a degree. You can go into a community college, take the four to six or eight classes that you think are absolutely essential to getting the foundation under your feet and you’re going to be head and shoulders above most everyone else who has ever launched a business. You’ll have the core ingredients. I mean, Bill Gates. He was a computer programmer and a college dropout and you can see what he accomplished because he took a few of those courses and made sure they had the foundation underneath them. From what you said, it sounds like you believe that people can train themselves up to be an entrepreneur. Let’s talk about the the personality aspect. What are the top three personal attributes a human really needs to have or to acquire so that they will be a really great entrepreneur?
Ray Zinn: I think courage is key. Humility. Humility really, says, “I don’t know it all but I’m willing to learn.” You’re empathetic as when you’re humble. I think lastly, not to make a big long list, but passion. You have to have a passion to do it because passion will help you overcome a lot of the fears and concerns that you might have. Fear is the fastest thing to destroy you. That’s where courage comes in by the way. Courage and passion go together. youmust be courageous, but you also need to have that passion that drives you when all else fails. I call it running on empty. In other words, you have to be able to run when your body is telling you no. In racing or in marathon, they call it the wall. You have to be able to go through the wall or over the wall.
So whenever there’s that nagging feeling, “Oh man, why did I do this?” and, “Gosh. I can’t make it. I can’t do it.” You just, the real entrepreneur just pushes his body through it. He overcomes that stigma of failure. That’s what a true entrepreneur can do. He can run on empty.
Guy Smith: I’m glad that you phrased it that way. I’ve been known to hang out with musicians and songwriters, kind of my passion, my hobby, and I’ve run across so many of them who are afraid to get on stage, not because of stage fright, but because they don’t think they’ll ever find that audience. But I’ve also talked to a few successful songwriters, a lot of successful musicians, and they were of the same mindset. They said, “No, you just have to stick with it. You have to keep getting on stage and you build your fan base one new fan at a time.” So they have this entrepreneurial zeal in a way in terms of their performing. They don’t think they’re going to be famous overnight. They think they’re going to be famous by winning one friend every gig. So any last thoughts, Ray, about what would encourage somebody in the audience today to say, “Yes I can. Yes I want to be an entrepreneur and yes this is the one thing that’s going to make me get up tomorrow morning and go do it.”
Ray Zinn: Well. I’m going to go back to those four class. I think a your willingness to take those four courses, accounting, economics, business law and financial managerial accounting, the willingness to take those four classes, the willingness to read Tough Things First cover to cover, the willingness to raise enough money to take you to profitability and then just having that personal drive and passion to see it through because being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart. If you’re fearful, if you lack confidence, self confidence, you best not try it because it will take a lot out of you and your family if you don’t have that confidence to see it through.
Guy Smith: Amen to that. The interesting thing, I think again about your book in a way is that it helps create confidence. Just to give away a little part of the book, I mentioned before the entrepreneurial’s, entrepreneurs’ knack of navigating to the dark room, one of the analogies that Ray gives in his book is that finding your way through business means that you’re going to be dealing with things that are unknown to you. His analogy was it’s like walking into a dark room and you know two things. There’s a door on the other side of the room and there’s a lot of furniture in the room, but it’s pitch black. A good entrepreneur kind of treats business like being in this dark room. You move forward slowly, you feel your way around, you map in your mind where all the different pieces of furniture are, and eventually you’re going to reach that goal of that door on the other side of the room.
That I think was one of the best lessons I got from Tough Things First. That’s a great way to think about how you move through life, but also especially how you move through business. So Ray, thank you again very much for your time. To everyone in the audience, also get a copy of Ray’s other book, the Zen of Zinn. If you really need to see how employees, leaders, managers, society and the country in general, all inter-operate together because that’s part of your job as an entrepreneur, is seeing those relationships and making them work in harmony. Rate and review us on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts content and be with us next week for the next episode of Tough Things First.