The Mind of the Pure Entrepreneur

Geoff Smith Portrait

BY Geoff Smith


My father Don, who founded EllisDon at 27, is 88 now. He’s pretty frail, but very sharp. And he has never changed. If you’d like to know something of the ‘pure entrepreneur’, here’s a big clue (I think):

A couple of weeks ago, my 84 year old mother tripped and busted up her kneecap. My mother’s the same – very strong mentally, not so much physically, and both of them are very (very) independent. When my mom went to the Doctor about her knee, he fixed her up with an immobilizing brace, a wheel chair, and told her not to put any weight on it (ie, walk).

Leaving the doctor, my Dad said ‘Well, let’s drive to the cottage.’ My Mom said, quite logically, ‘Hold on, bucko. How are we going to get from the car, up the hill, to the cottage? I can’t walk and you can’t push me. We will be stuck.’ The 88 year old replied ‘Don’t worry about it, we’ll figure it out when we get there.’ The 84 year old said ‘What’s to figure? I can’t walk up that hill. You can’t push me. We will be stuck and that’s a real bad thing.’ But my Dad would not be deterred: They got in the car and drove to their cottage. As they pulled in the driveway, a couple of young guys just happened to be walking by, and my Dad called them and said ‘I’ll give you both twenty bucks if you help me get this old lady up into our cottage.’ Five minutes later, they were exactly where they most wanted to be.

I just think that’s a hugely great and very human story. Entrepreneurs have this sense of optimism and determination that succeeds against logic. They just know it will work out, and they make it work out, in the face of all the reasons it shouldn’t work out. They count on some luck, even though they know they won’t always get it. Rational thinkers plan, figure out all the details, make lists of pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses, blah blah, and most often decide to stay put: They never get to the cottage.

It’s a balance, obviously. But most companies (and many people) lose the very entrepreneurial spark that made them great in the first place because, very sensibly and logically, they’re afraid of getting stuck in the car (and looking foolish doing it).

So here’s the entrepreneurial test: What’s your greatest fear: Getting stuck in the car? Or never getting to the cottage?