Over the last decade or so it has become increasingly popular for people to identify themselves as “entrepreneurs”, perhaps because the “start-up CEO” sometimes becomes a kind of rock star. In fact, seldom does a week go by that someone I meet doesn’t extoll their entrepreneurial spirit as a business badge of honor. The only problem…..
Many of them have no idea what an entrepreneur really does.
I have had the pleasure of working with many world-class entrepreneurs during my career, and an equal number of people that thought they were entrepreneurs. I often find it common for people to confuse entrepreneur with a wide range of often only semi-related adjectives.
For instance, you can be innovative, aggressive, a self-starter, clever, a tireless worker, inventive, and a brilliant business person – have cetain entrepreneurial aspects to your personality – and not be an entrepreneur. Being a great manager does not make you an entrepreneur (and in fact, many entrepreneurs are not particularly good managers.) The fact that you are brimming with wonderful ideas also does not make you an entrepreneur. Real entrepreneurs talk about what they have done, not what they intend to do.
Here is how you make the entrepreneurial cut. First, you have the idea. It might be all yours, or perhaps you borrowed, stole, or just perfected it. You then formulate it into a business. You conceive and write a business plan, with detailed realistic financials. You then take your own money – and perhaps raise additional funds from other sources – to fund the business, almost always accepting tremendous personal risk. You spend anywhere from a few years to the rest of your life (if you are lucky enough to last that long) building the business. You recruit, hire, and fire. You are constantly on the hunt for new customers. You protect your business as if it were your first born, sometimes going through the agony of firing people you love because you know it has to be done for the good of the business. You gladly accept that a big part of your job during the early years is to work harder than everyone else, and understand every aspect of the business. You take risks, make mistakes, and recalibrate so you don’t make the same mistakes again. When times are bad you work for free. You pay attention to every detail – often to the extreme annoyance of those around you – to make the organization as efficient as possible. You spend most waking hours thinking about your business, often to the detriment of family and friendships.
You sometimes act like your Dad, walking around the office turning off lights, yelling “electricity isn’t free”.
And even after you have done all that, you usually fail. But when it works, you form a parental attachment to your company, and the people that helped make it successful. It isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle.
You are not an entrepreneur if you have ideas with no action. Nor are you an entrepreneur if you work for a massive corporation, and you talk them into funding the development of a new product. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – you still might be an incredible business person – but entrepreneurs take risk and produce structure. You are not an entrepreneur just because you took the “Intro to Entrepreneurship” course in college. You also can’t be an entrepreneur by association; just because you do work for entrepreneurs, invested in a start-up, or perhaps immediately sold off your idea does not make you an entrepreneur.
And in the end, it’s good we aren’t all entrepreneurs. Different stages of business require different kinds of people, and the entrepreneur serves a specific need in the business world. But to those that do it, there is really no other option.