Economics For Business
Per Bylund: Avoid the Errors of UN-trepreneurship
Tags The EntrepreneurEntrepreneurship
Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights
Follow the guidance of the Austrian Business Model.
The entrepreneurial business model is built on a set of important economic principles. Wandering away from the entrepreneurial pathway can lead to errors that Per Bylund christened UN-trepreneurship.
Focus on serving consumers and customers.
The purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer. It’s a demanding task, because customer needs are continuously evolving and changing, and competing entrepreneurs are vying for their dollars. It is critical to maintain intense focus on service to customers.
There is a lot of distracting entrepreneurial advice. You might encounter instructions to “identify and exploit market gaps” or to “seize opportunities”, for example. But there are no such things as gaps to fill or opportunities to grab. The language makes it sound like these are objective phenomena, unmasked by analytics. They’re not. The right strategic platform for entrepreneurs is to focus on serving customers by identifying their preferences and meeting them.
Every hour you spend, every strategic thought you develop, should be focused on the customer.
Productivity lies in returns on customer satisfaction.
You’ll hear a lot of talk of generating returns, especially on funds invested by lenders or VCs. These returns are emergent outcomes of other activities. Even profit is an indirect outcome more than it is a goal.
Ludwig von Mises wrote in Human Action that the task of the entrepreneur is to use capital “to the best possible satisfaction of consumers”. Anything else “hurts people’s well-being”. Customer sovereignty, in the language of economics, means that the customer decides, by buying or not buying, what will be the return to the entrepreneur on their investments of time, effort and money. Productivity results from the most efficient assembly and combination of resources to produce customer satisfaction.
Sometimes, business literature and business practice can deviate from this standard. Often, for example, the pursuit of “scaling” — making a firm big, in numbers of employees, say, or number of transactions, as fast as possible — can divert resources from serving customers to serving the needs of infrastructure growth and bureaucracy. Customer satisfaction should be the only focus.
Understand subjective value.
The economic concept of value is challenging to master for entrepreneurs. Value is an experience in the customer’s mind. We’ve also identified that it’s a process — a learning process customers initiate and actively conduct to make a decision as to whether an offering has potential value (“I might like it”), relative value (“I think I might feel better about buying X versus Y”), exchange value (“I am willing to pay Z dollars at this point in time to acquire X”), experience value (“my satisfaction was more / less / the same as I expected”) and assessed value (“looking back on it, my value experience was worthwhile and worth repeating unless something with more potential value is offered to me”). All through this cycle, the customer is active in the marketplace, learning about alternative offers, changing their consumption preferences, interacting with other people with different experiences and preferences that might be influential, receiving advertising messages, and generally rearranging their personal value recipe.
It's a challenge to understand and a challenge to keep up. An entrepreneur’s understanding of subjective value is a critical business success component. Importantly, the business school concept of “creating value” can be unhelpful. Value is created by the customer. The role of the entrepreneur is to understand how to fit in to the customer’s life and contribute to it, making possible (“facilitating”) the mental experience we call value.
View pricing as a discovery process, not as an expression of market power.
Another challenge of the economic way of thinking to conventional business writing is the understanding of prices. Prices are emergent market signals, ultimately determined by the consumer’s willingness to pay. Prices can’t be “set” by the entrepreneur. There is no “pricing power”. Margins can not be calculated by determining the price you want to sell at and then subtracting the costs you have imposed on yourself.
Entrepreneurs discover prices — the market reveals them. Attempts to use pricing as leverage to grow market share irrespective of costs and profits are doomed to failure if it is later discovered that customers become conditioned to the artificially low prices and resist returning to a higher price.
Follow the entrepreneurial ethic.
Per Bylund has emphasized that there is an entrepreneurial ethic that applies. Entrepreneurship is the service of meeting customer needs. Profit emerges as a result of successfully accomplishing this task. Profit is necessary to maintain the service, but it’s not necessarily the primary goal. In some ways, entrepreneurship is a calling. There are social and emotional benefits for taking on the role of the entrepreneur — we can classify them as psychic profit. There is purpose and meaning in the entrepreneurial life.
This should not be confused with the misguided economics of so-called social entrepreneurship or impact entrepreneurship: attempting to rearrange and redistribute resources in society through the active application of the entrepreneur’s personal preferences. Only the customer’s preferences in the marketplace can direct the best allocation of resources. The entrepreneurial ethic is to follow and serve.
"Avoiding The Errors of UN-trepreneurship" (PDF): Mises.org/E4E_64_PDF
Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
Hunter Hastings is a member of the Mises Institute, Business Consultant, and co-chair of the Rescue California Educational Foundation. He is also host of the Economics for Business podcast. You can find Hunter’s writings on entrepreneurship at hunterhastings.com.
Per Bylund, PhD, is a Senior Fellow of the Mises Institute and Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship and Johnny D. Pope Chair in the School of Entrepreneurship in the Spears School of Business at Oklahoma State University, and an Associate Fellow of the Ratio Institute in Stockholm. He has previously held faculty positions at Baylor University and the University of Missouri. Dr. Bylund has published research in top journals in both entrepreneurship and management as well as in both the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics and the Review of Austrian Economics. He is the author of three full-length books: How to Think about the Economy: A Primer, The Seen, the Unseen, and the Unrealized: How Regulations Affect our Everyday Lives, and The Problem of Production: A New Theory of the Firm. He has edited The Modern Guide to Austrian Economics and The Next Generation of Austrian Economics: Essays In Honor of Joseph T. Salerno. He has founded four business startups and writes a column for Entrepreneur magazine. For more information see PerBylund.com.