What is Entrepreneurship, Really?

As ‘The Room’s Disrupter’, Daniella Sachs takes us behind the scenes of her colourful journey around the world in search of an ever-elusive career path — only to realise that her problem in life was that she was an entrepreneur who didn’t know it. Never one to stick to the script, she boldly asks the challenging questions of what it actually means to be an entrepreneur.

What is entrepreneurship, really? This is a question that has plagued me now for a number of years.

Entrepreneurship, we are led to believe, is this super sexy realm of glossy (insert impressive university here) graduates, hipster t-shirt wearing techies, and business savvy hustlers who started their first business while wearing diapers — all united by a follow-the-rainbow quest to discover the next sparkly unicorn. The last time I checked the mirror, I most certainly did not see any of these picture postcards staring back.

Daniella Sachs

It’s hardly surprising that it’s taken me years to realise that the only thing “wrong” with me was that I was an entrepreneur who didn’t know it. And I can’t help but wonder how many more people like me there must be out there…

My journey could not begin to be described as a typical entrepreneurial journey. Or could it?

I was a straight-A high-school student cursed (or blessed) with being a sciencey-artist, an analytical creative, a curious poker of things. For all intents and purposes, architecture should have been a good fit. But I ended up with limbs awkwardly splaying out the box in all directions, getting messy inventing new architecture materials, new construction techniques, new forms of architecture… when all we were supposed to do was design beautiful buildings. I definitely learnt that universities do not take kindly to having their boxes pushed!

Unsurprisingly, my traditional architecture career did not last very long. I bounded off to Australia to become a green/sustainable architect, but found myself stuck in the soapsuds of greenwashing. Shaking myself off, I emerged in a remote village in Madagascar knee-deep in inventing a new ‘skills+1’ design-build methodology to impact 24 villages with one ecolodge. Intrigued by the freedom that this realm of tourism development gave my multifaceted self, I went on to complete a Masters. Of course, this took place in an area of study no one had ever studied, and on an island that not many people even know exists.

Truth be told, I really thought I had finally found that shiny yellow-brick career path I had always heard about. However, my seemingly compulsive habit of always asking “but why?….what if….?” ruffled far too many feathers. And my unusual skill-set and experience definitely did not fit any HR tick-box. Because I was really good at hitting the ground running anywhere — clambering over or scuttling under any obstacle — I found myself helping others to build businesses. It was only when I got badly burnt by two business partners, and was forced to take an honest look back into the depths of all I had done, that it dawned on me: perhaps I had what it took to be an entrepreneur.

But there was still an overriding doubt gnawing at me. I was not born with a business hustle. How could I possibly think I could be an entrepreneur? Through the journey of the African Leadership University MBA program, I have learnt that my problem was not lack of business acumen; it was a lack of understanding of what entrepreneurship really is. And I can see this doubt echoed in many of my peers who do not see themselves as being entrepreneurial, even though they are not scared to ask the hard questions of: “but why?….what if….?”

This has left me wondering how many entrepreneurial minds are being stunted by our traditional glossy definitions of entrepreneurship.

What if entrepreneurship is not the ability to chase unicorns, but the pursuit of another (better) way to do things?

What if entrepreneurship is about nurturing curiosity, and an instinctive nature to poke and prod things?

What if entrepreneurship is about waking up with itchy feet and an inability to accept things the way they are?

What if entrepreneurship is taking the ideas that keep you up at night, writing them down, and doing them?

By shifting our definitions of entrepreneurship, it is my hope that more people will be able to unleash their entrepreneurial potential — in whatever unique form it takes.

Look out for more from Daniella in the “Diary of a Divergent Entrepreneur” series.