By Fritz Fleischmann, Babson College
Günter Faltin, one of the earliest pioneers of entrepreneurship education in Germany, is also the founder of the legendary Teekampagne, a highly unorthodox small company that has become the world’s largest importer of Darjeeling tea. His 2008 book, Kopf schlägt Kapital (literally: “brains beat capital”), of which the present volume is the authorized translation, is the most successful book on entrepreneurship ever sold in Germany. It has inspired people and changed lives, and its impact continues to grow.
Faced with the growing mountain of books on entrepreneurship, why should you read this one? The answer is simple: because it is so different. So plausible. So helpful. It makes you want to reach for the stars, not for the aspirin.
Brains versus Capital (as it presents itself to you in English) is a manifesto for people’s entrepreneurship, but also a how-to guide on getting started; it is the story of a “radical idealist of capitalism”[i] who shows you how to make money, but who also tells you how to have fun and how to make the world a better place.
Drawing on lessons learned from running his own company and from helping to start a number of others, Faltin demonstrates why a well-thought-out idea is more important than a patent, a new technology, or a large amount of start-up capital. “Concept-creative” thinking, paired with ordinary common sense, is also more important than mastery of business administration subjects — you do not need an MBA or genius-level talent to create a company that beats established competitors in the marketplace. Faltin introduces what he calls the “component principle,” a division of labor made possible by the virtual systems of our postindustrial societies: drawing on the experience and the economies of scale of mature companies in specialized areas, you can harness their expertise to your own purposes and focus on the continuing refinement and adjustment of your main idea. Building your start-up from components, you do not need to work yourself to death to be the founder of an enterprise. But you must do your own thinking – something which can be taught and learned, as Faltin demonstrates in his “Labor für Entrepreneurship” in Berlin, a bi-weekly salon that brings together students, founders-to-be, creative intellectuals of various kinds, and interesting individuals who have already taken the leap into successful entrepreneurship. Faltin wants the field of entrepreneurship to re-address, not only in theory but in practice, the Enlightenment’s promise of economic self-realization: let us not leave economics to the economists! Let us turn the “dismal science” into a joyful pursuit! And encourage people to participate in this movement.
Getting rich is fun but ultimately pointless, unless it manages to improve something. Faltin’s ideal is neither the company man or woman, nor the person who accumulates wealth for the sake of being rich; his ideal is the artist, the creator, the rebel who questions convention and who aims to lead a rich and meaningful life.
This approach keeps alive the connection between business and pleasure, between work and life, between getting and spending. Faltin encourages us to be the entrepreneurs of our own lives: self-determined, rational, passionate, in charge. And this is not an extreme sport either, limited to a few obsessed individuals who are ready to take unusual risks while most of us look on in timid awe. Where many teachers of entrepreneurship favor risk-taking and emphasize “opportunity recognition,” Faltin wants us to minimize risk and to avoid the lure of quick opportunities. His is what I call the “slow food” version of entrepreneurship: take your time, prepare well, then sit back and enjoy. Take pleasure in the preparation as well as the eating; enjoy both the work and its rewards. Don’t become the slave of your work; keep your head free. Do meaningful work; be mindful of other people and the larger world.
Does this sound impossible? Brains versus Capital shows how it can be done, using the example of the Teekampagne as well as the other successful companies that have been built on the “Faltin model.” This model is not just one of the “green shoots of an entrepreneurial spring” breaking out all over the world,[ii] but a well-rooted plant from whose seeds other shoots are already growing. Reading this book may well inspire you to plant such a seed and watch it grow into your own tree of life.
A note on the text: after Lois Feuerle created a literal translation of the German text published in 2008, Fritz Fleischmann edited and, in part, rewrote the English version in close consultation with the author. As far as possible, Günter Faltin’s conversational style was retained. Some references to specifically German conditions were cut because they would be of little interest to an international audience; others were kept because they illustrated more general points. Some text was added in response to feedback from readers of the German edition, and because of the author’s desire to clarify some points. This English version, however, despite these clarifications and enrichments, still speaks with the same unconventional voice that made Kopf schlägt Kapital a bestseller in Germany.
[i] Stefan Wagner, in Red Bulletin, June 2011.