The entrepreneurial world is filled with those driven to ‘work for myself’, ‘be my own boss’, or ‘create my own destiny”. And while that is a common driver for many, there is a much more powerful force at play that causes corporate executives and career employees to leave safety and security for the risky and uncertain life of an entrepreneur. That force is the power of compulsion. It’s when someone is ‘forced’, if you will, to pursue a business path propelled by an opportunity or emerging technology that categorically cannot be denied. For many, this is like a black hole that pulls them in, and for better or worse, they are now what I call a ‘compelled entrepreneur’.
What I’ve noticed is that companies run by these ‘compelled entrepreneurs’ often are the most exciting and lucrative. My investment group is consistently drawn to the technology or opportunity that has compelled someone to drop everything and run towards the business. They may not have wanted to, they may not have even been ready to, but they had no choice. That’s a story and a person that investors, clients, and customers are motivated to support.
Businessman looking at city in modern office
I recently discovered an interesting company in the electric motor industry. Exro Technologies produces software that effectively acts as ‘the brains’ of the power electronics in an electric vehicle or machine. While the technology is impressive, it wasn’t until I met their new CEO, Sue Ozdemir, that I had to stop and take notice.
Sue had dedicated her life to the study, creation, design, and innovation of electric motors. She spent her entire career in the corporate world, eventually working her way up to becoming the CEO of small industrial motors at General Electric. By almost any standard, one of the most prominent and respected positions in the electric motor industry.
As a CEO at GE, she was often approached by hopeful companies and engineers. One company, Exro Technologies, was very persistent. Eventually, Sue uttered the one phrase that would effectively change her life.
She said, “Show me the technology.”
Thirty days later, Sue had resigned her position at GE, moved her entire family to Calgary Alberta, and became the CEO of EXRO.
My first question was, “Why would you leave General Electric to run this company?”
She said, “Do you know anything about electric motors?”
“No,” I responded.
“Well, I do,” she smiled. “I had no choice.”
And just like that, Sue was a ‘compelled entrepreneur’ thrust into her first true entrepreneurial endeavor. And the business of Exro became infinitely more interesting.
Interview with Exro CEO Sue Ozdemir
I’ve heard this story many times (although Sue’s is one of the best). When someone is deeply entrenched and connected to an industry, they are often the first to see opportunities and glaring holes in the market. In biotech, for example, many highly respected and well-paid scientists leave giant pharmaceutical companies to chase down an abandoned patent or experimental drug. They just can’t help themselves.
Wherever you are in your entrepreneurial journey, here are three ways to position yourself as a ‘compelled entrepreneur’.
Develop Your Origin Story
It’s widely known that investors and consumers are drawn to people as much as products or ideas. I can tell you for sure that if the entrepreneur has a compelling origin story, it heightens the conversation. In The 3 Minute Rule I show readers how to craft their story. I call it the “reason for being,” and it answers the vital question, ‘why are you here?’. Your origin story needs to make your audience feel the irresistible draw that first compelled you to get involved.
Stay In Your Lane
The value of a compelled entrepreneur brings is most often the intimate knowledge of a specific industry. Laser focus is a wildly compelling attribute. If you look at Exro, Sue has specifically formed the mission of the company directly around her expertise in the electric motor industry. Yes, Exro has technology that could probably be applied to many industries, but she left the big chair at GE for a specific reason, and that’s where the company is directed. Your story will resonate so much deeper if you stay hyper-focused on the core mission that brought you there in the first place.
Focus On The Unique
Compelled entrepreneurs are not ‘one of many,’ and they don’t enter the marketplace to simply capitalize on a ‘competitive advantage’. Nobody is compelled to make a slightly better mousetrap. Look for that one piece of what you do that nobody else is doing that makes you unique. Build that into the fabric of your story and make that your driver. For Sue and Exro, the idea of coil switching an electric motor was not new, but the ability to do it in real-time was. So while the industry (including her at GE) is focused on making new electric motors smarter and more efficient, Exro developed the technology to make existing motors smarter and more efficient. And to her credit, she’s built that unique element at the center of the Exro story.
Exro EPM (Electronic Program Module) software becomes the ‘brains’ of an electric motor
Ironically, I know most entrepreneurs feel ‘compelled’ nearly every day of their lives. The key is to harness that feeling and leverage it into a palatable story. In this convoluted short attention span world, it’s more important than ever to have a simplified concise answer to the ‘why?’ question. You’ll find that If you want to compel others to believe in what you do, the best way is to make them understand what compelled you to do what you do.