Entrepreneurship, vision and the CEO role

Passionate, resilient, controlling, risk taker (I actually prefer risk manager to taker), self-confident and visionary are just a few of the words that spring to mind when describing entrepreneurial people. The first few times I was labelled an entrepreneur I found it slightly awkward, as if I was an imposter trying to play in the big leagues.

The ‘entrepreneur’ tag line was also something I felt was becoming tokenistic as more and more people were labelling themselves entrepreneurs. Being an entrepreneur is a funny thing, it’s not a career avenue you choose like becoming a doctor, lawyer or teacher. It chooses you, because you either have it – or you don’t. More importantly, I believe that the only way you can authentically become an entrepreneur is through having it and then earning it (by doing something with it).

I think what does confuse people is the difference between being an owner in a business or being self-employed vs being an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship is all about doing something with the idea, it’s about being the person who is breaking new ground, who challenges the way people think and take a huge amount of risk while leading the crusade from the front. Entrepreneurship is about knowing when to roll your sleeves up and ‘doing shit’ but it’s also about knowing when to focus on the vision and the strategy while at the same time being a control freak, understanding the heartbeat of your business, your industry and your people.

I’ve always looked to the great entrepreneurs of our time as role models. People like Sir Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos. My view is that if you aren’t truly at the forefront of changing an industry (or ideally the world), you’re not really an entrepreneur. Harsh call? Maybe. My favourite entrepreneurs are those who successfully translate from being visionary entrepreneurs into the visionary entrepreneurial CEO. However, the traits you need as a CEO and entrepreneur don’t always go hand in hand. That’s why many entrepreneurs might struggle to fill both hats.

Many entrepreneurs tend to focus too much on the detail. I for one, know that every Sunday, our team are anxiously awaiting a text message or email (or worst case scenario a phone call) from James or I after we’ve examined the Food Bag we’ve received. There’s no doubt that we’re controlling down to the tiniest detail, from how the bags have been packed, to how the products are labelled or the size and type of products used. Nothing avoids our scrutiny. If anyone can find an issue with the weekly delivery – it’s definitely us.

When it comes to our customers, I’ll readily admit to constantly keeping my ‘ear to the ground’. I listen to our customers through all our mediums, including social media – I’ll regularly tune in to Facebook to see what’s trending. I often read our responses to our customers and come back to my team querying how or why a certain response was formulated. My Food Bags belief is that ‘our customers are at the heart of every decision we make’, therefore we can never rest on our laurels and constantly need to work to improve our customer experience and our culture. The DNA of our teams has been built over time under an enormous level of scrutiny on James and my part. The team weathers it well, and whether my current rant is on pizza bases (last week) or how we respond to social media issues (this week), or the size of our cupboards (as I am writing), they understand that, at the core, we must always make decisions with the customer at our forefront.

While focusing on what might seem as the smallest detail, it’s important to be able to lift yourself out of that detail and continue to lead your team toward the vision. That’s where the visionary entrepreneurial CEO can add real value. But to achieve that vision, we need to question what we do. Winston Churchill said it well, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” This goes to the core of everything that we do. We must scrutinize, criticise and question how we are performing. Down to the core. Only through truly seeing ourselves in the mirror can we fulfil our vision and purpose.

Because we never want to be followers, we‘re always leaders. Because we never want to be second, we’re always first. We celebrate our successes and take stock along the way – we must thank our team and show them how much even the smallest thing matters. At the end of the day, our role as Entrepreneurs and CEOs is to keep driving our vision forward, to keep challenging the norm and ensure that we are always at the forefront of innovation and more than anything – that we are always doing right by our customer.