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I. Do You Have the Rhythm?

Does nature or the environment create the entrepreneur? This question has been posed many times by professionals and academics in an effort to understand what makes a successful entrepreneur.

So why is it that some people can step up to the plate and hit a home run every time, some get one good base hit and never do any better than that, and others spend their entire lives trying and never even get up to bat? Wayne Huizenga of Waste Management Inc., and Blockbuster Video fame seems to have the Midas touch when it comes to starting companies. His string of successes has spanned from the trash removal business to video rental and music sales to professional sports, and most recently, to automobile sales. Entrepreneurs, such as Steve Jobs, present an interesting case. His monumental success with Apple Computer did not continue with his follow-up company Next, which was acquired recently by Apple in an effort to assist both of their performance woes.

One man who has spent his life practicing, learning, and teaching Entrepreneurship, has written a book outlining the processes and philosophies of entrepreneurs who time and time again have created successful businesses. Dr. Jeffrey Shuman, Director of Entrepreneurial Studies at the Bentley College Graduate School of Business in Waltham, MA, has nearly finished his latest book that details over two decades of his experiences and observations in the areas of emerging business. He "describes the business development process which intuitively all natural born entrepreneurs use to start, build and run a business." Dr. Shuman feels this is the framework that current and new businesses will have to practice to stay competitive in today's ever changing business environment. "As we enter the 21st Century the world of business has changed fundamentally. All businesses of any shape and size will have to think entrepreneurially. Because of the global marketplace and the Internet, business and the requirements for success are rapidly changing. Large companies are increasingly competing for customers and realize they need to think entrepreneurially to stay competitive." This process he has defined that consistently exists in people who are considered natural born entrepreneurs is what he calls the "The Rhythm of Business." It is this "Rhythm" that he strives to present to the ever growing world of emerging business.

II. It Comes from Experience

Since the early 1970's Dr. Shuman has worked in emerging business, both in practice and in study. He has started four companies, with two becoming multi-million dollar ventures. Furthermore, he has taught graduate level courses at two different business schools. Dr. Shuman was involved in the founding of the renowned entrepreneurial program at The Babson College Graduate School in Wellesley, MA. Babson has been ranked as a top graduate, entrepreneurial program in the United States by U.S News and World Report.

Dr. Shuman earned a Bachelors degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Design, and then an MS in Management from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. After a brief career at General Electric, he returned to Rensselaer to earn his Ph. D. in Management, concentrating in Strategic Management.

After completing his Doctorate, Dr. Shuman joined the faculty at Babson College, and shortly thereafter started his first business venture. Over the next eight years, his giftware manufacturing and distribution company became so large that he resigned his tenured teaching position to work at the company full time. The company employed up to 30 people, and was grossing nearly $2MM annually with over 5,000 accounts worldwide. He eventually sold the business in 1981, and started his second venture with a Japanese manufacturer to establish a U.S. distribution system for its stationary products. When he completed this venture, Dr. Shuman resigned to join the faculty at Bentley College in 1983.

These two ventures, plus a third in the software publishing business, led him to his most recent entrepreneurial venture. In 1989, he became involved in a start-up with Michael Shane, who was coming off of a venture called Leading Edge Products. At the time, Michael Shane was considered to be an entrepreneurial visionary by many leading U.S. business publications. Shane wanted to start a computer manufacturing company called Model American Computer, and he wanted Dr. Shuman to be its president. Dr. Shuman left Bentley for a year on sabbatical , and then took a leave of absence to commit two years to the venture. Model American did not become one of the principal computer manufacturers during the 1980's. Dr. Shuman and Michael Shane went their separate ways in the early 1990s, and Model American licensed its logos to another computer manufacturer.

Dr. Shuman considers his background and training as essential factors to help him to identify and describe a process for successfully building a business. It is also what he considers to be his competitive advantage over other academics and industry experts who have published their own procedures and philosophies for starting successful companies. "In my experience no one in the world had been able to identify and describe this process. I feel I was able to do it is because not only have I had the traditional academic experience looking at entrepreneurship from the outside, but also have had and continue to have intimate entrepreneurial experience from the inside." Having worked with Michael Shane, who had successfully started five companies, he feels there really are natural born entrepreneurs who know what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and why it needs to be done. "I feel fortunate to have been in Michael's shirt pocket for two years at 168 hours a week as president of the company where he was the CEO. I was able to develop an understanding of the intuitive process that the natural born entrepreneurs utilize."

Dr. Shuman continues to practice his entrepreneurial skills by working as a consultant and advisor to several large and growing ventures. Most recently, he joined the advisory board of Streamline Inc. which is a pioneering company in the home delivery of consumer goods and services. Founded by serial entrepreneur Tim DeMello, Streamline was featured in the November,1996 issue of Inc. Magazine, Streamline has earned significant attention and early success because of its innovative way of offering services such as dry cleaning and grocery delivery to a consumers' home. It also has several board members of note including Faith Popcorn, author of The Popcorn Report and Clicking. "I feel my differentiation from other college academics in the entrepreneurship area is that their experience is largely from the outside. My past and ongoing experience allows me to continue with the experience of venture creation from the inside as well."

III. Just What Is that Rhythm?

Dr. Shuman explains that "Rhythm" is not what academics often describe as behavioral characteristics. He looks at how entrepreneurs do what they do, and what the sequence is of what they do. "Most people that start businesses start it with a vision of the entity and what it's going to be: is it going to be a restaurant, is it going to be a manufacturer of sporting goods... The natural born entrepreneurs don't do that. They start a process that will manifest itself at various times as different business configurations. It's a continuous never ending process. Michael Shane has demonstrated this process over and over since his first business."

He does not define the characteristics of entrepreneurship as simply perseverance and the ability to deal with stress and risk, "These are attributes that are good to have but they are not the key elements. The key elements are to understand that there is a process." He believes that the entrepreneurship being taught in many business schools is wrong because it teaches that venture creation is a straight line. According to Dr. Shuman the teaching is as follows: you start with a market opportunity; you develop the business concept to respond to that opportunity; you assess and gain access to the resources required; you apply those resources; you manage the business; and if you've done all of these things properly your business will be successful. All the better, if you possess the traditional characteristics of entrepreneurship. "The problem is that when you look at businesses that are successful, the entity that is successful is fundamentally different than what it started out as. The product, customer or application may have changed which means you can't get it right the first time." According to Dr. Shuman, this is a key observation - convention assumes you get it right the first time. "While it says you have to allow for flexibility it doesn't give you any guidelines on how to manage being flexible or what that even means. If you start with the mindset that I won't get it right the first time and that others shouldn't think I should get it right the first time. People often start with the idea that they can get it right the first time and that they have too. What they wind up doing is when they lock in on that concept, when the second step in the conventional process starts they inevitably put on blinders that will keep them focused on bringing their vision to fruition. But those blinders block out information on what is wrong with their business."

Dr. Shuman concludes that the key to entrepreneurial and business success is very simple, "The ability to satisfy the needs and wants of your customers better than anyone else in the world." The acid test - Is there a customer out there willing to pay money for your product or service? "It's only about satisfying the customer not about beating out the competition because by definition if you satisfy your customers the best in the world, you have no competition." How do you establish this process? "Go to the market place to satisfy the customer. Get that feedback and continually tweak it to the point that you satisfy the needs of the customer, given that these needs constantly change for a variety of factors. You have to continue this dance. It's a continuous process and if you're lucky enough to ever obtain success it is often never final. The process continues because the customers' needs constantly change."

This has been a curosory explanation of the foundation of the process: that the development of a business is a never ending, dynamic event, requiring constant observation and adjustment. Dr. Shuman was able to reinforce his theory with two other natural born entrepreneurs: Bobby Greenberg, the founder of LA Gear, and Sketches; and Tim DeMello of Streamline. He has refined the process based upon his discussions with these entrepreneurs, and has applied it to other entrepreneurs to solidify this process that he calls "The Rhythm of Business."

IV. Current Happenings and Future Plans for The Rhythm of Business

Dr. Shuman intends to build a business around "The Rhythm of Business." As the Director of Entrepreneurial Studies at Bentley College, the degree program he oversees is being built around "The Rhythm of Business" process. His book ,to be published this year, is titled, The Rhythm of Business: The Key to Building and Running Successful Companies. "The book describes and explains the process in easy to follow language."

Dr. Shuman has given seminars to Fortune 100 companies that are increasingly interested in the entrepreneurial mindset. "Many companies have already been in that thought process for some time now and more are coming to this realization. The new companies are interested in programs that expose their key management team to this mindset of doing things." Shell Oil and Sabre Group Holdings are just some of clients. What do these companies want from these lectures? According to Dr. Shuman, "When Sabre was under American Airlines it was protected by them and never really was exposed to having to find market share and customers. Now that they are alone they are in a brave new world competing for customers. Companies on the Internet such as 1Travel and Travelocity sell tickets at low prices and bypass the travel agents in the world. These entrepreneurial companies send the message that we can give you what you want for cheaper because you bypass the middlemen. Sabre now has to compete in this... to compete you need to think entrepreneurially."

Personally, he will focus on "The Rhythm of Business", and it mediums: the book, lectures, Web sites... "The belief now is that we are starting 3.5 million businesses per year in the U.S. alone thanks to one person shops like Internet shops, unprecedented venture developments in the former Soviet Union countries, South America and Asia. Entrepreneurship is exploding all over the globe." Dr. Shuman is a firm believer that results are a direct function of the process. He wants to spread his message. "Ultimately you always have to go back to the creation of new products and services to continue to satisfy your customer's wants and needs. These needs change because of the increased flexibility with evolving technology such as the Internet. The answer is exactly the same whether you are a brand new start-up or an established billion dollar company. Since the answer is the same for both companies, the thinking to succeed has to be the same." - ###


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