July 1, 2011

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Local Leaders Trace Their Entrepreneurial Roots

Heather Stewart

July 1, 2011

This succinct definition highlights the day-to-day realities of developing successful businesses. What it doesn’t do is glamorize entrepreneurs.

In order to be successful, says Sorenson, entrepreneurs need to be able to see the big picture, develop a strategy and assemble the right team. Additionally, entrepreneurs have to be able to stomach risk.

“Some people don’t feel comfortable in that environment,” he says. “That’s something that’s almost characteristic of every entrepreneur—willingness to be visionary and take the risks, essentially to have faith in yourself and in others. You’re risking failure, and you usually have failures. You learn from them and you adapt.”

Perhaps it’s that faith in yourself that comes closest to Wuebker’s description of self-efficacy. Entrepreneurs are willing to make the leap because they know—come what may—they will survive the inevitable falls.

But Sorenson also cautions against an inflated, unrealistic assessment of a business opportunity. “They have to believe in themselves but not get caught up in fantasyland. It’s a balance.”

Reality Check
“I didn’t really feel like I was born to be an entrepreneur,” says Kim Jones, founder and CEO of Vérité, a digital communications company that has thrived in Utah for nearly two decades.

Before moving to Utah, Jones worked in Silicon Valley’s tech community for 12 years. “My whole family is in technology; it’s pretty much been ingrained in our DNA,” she says. In Utah, she began working for a video production company, but she longed to update the company’s technology and embrace the new DVD and CD digital formats. But her employer was uninterested in changing the business. So Jones decided to take the risk and build a company that would meet the need for digital production that she saw in the market.

But did she know she would succeed—did she have that self-efficacious belief that she could accomplish her goals?

“I really did it without knowing if I would be successful or not. What I did was gave myself a year probation, and that was going to be based on whether I had continued revenue coming in, if I was at least breaking even—so I had a couple of trigger points that were going to be gauged at a year,” she says. “At the end of the first year, we were doing really well and things were successful, so we kept going.”

Again, the most striking thing about Jones is her pragmatism. She sets practical, measurable benchmarks to evaluate her success. As a leader, she helps her employees set milestones for themselves to ensure the entire organization is moving forward in the right direction.

Jones is ambitious, to be sure, and she describes herself as having a classic “Type-A” personality. “I’m a go-getter,” she says. But she believes her tangible skills are the true foundation of her success.

“You could be born with the tenacity and the passion, but you still need to learn how to keep financials in check and how to hire the right people and how to get the word out to the right market.”

Jones turned a long-time love of technology into a successful company that continues to evolve and implement new trends and technologies. While she is intense and driven, it may be her passion for technology that actually creates that energy.

“What you may be looking at—rather than seeing people who are more energetic than most, more motivated than most—maybe there’s actually something else happening underneath, which is people who are engaged in things they really care about tend to be more motivated than people who are engaged in things they don’t care about,” explains Wuebker.

At Utah Business, we have the opportunity to meet many of the state’s most successful entrepreneurs. When discussing their success, almost invariably, entrepreneurs give credit to their team.

It turns out this may be more than just lip service. According to Wuebker, teams matter much more than individual leaders.

“Entrepreneurship is a team sport; it’s not an individual sport. It doesn’t matter what your individual characteristics are because the moment that you get engaged in a business that requires more than one person, group dynamics come into play and group dynamics swamp individual characteristics every time,” he says.

“The moment you put…three or four people in play, which is a typical startup team, all of a sudden your fancy notions about whether you’re born or made are deeply irrelevant.”

So in the end, the key to success may be selecting the right teammates.

“I like to have pretty smart people around me,” says Sorenson, adding that it’s his role as an entrepreneur to be “a good judge of abilities and skills and management expertise.”

“If you don’t have very good people behind you, it’s very hard to pull much off in this world,” agrees Jones. “Whether it’s five people or 500 people, you need to have the right people in your organization.”

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