The Cult of the Entrepreneur
Entrepreneurship is having a moment. Innovative people with the resources, know-how and spunk to bring their ideas to life have been doing so since the dawn of civilization, but in the age of Silicon Valley tech startup success stories, crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, and investment programs like Dragons’ Den, you could say entrepreneurs have reached celebrity status.
Like the countless young girls singing into their hairbrushes and dreaming of becoming the next Beyonce, it seems like more and more people are setting their sights on venturing out on their own to create the next big thing and become the next Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, or Elon Musk.
Being inspired by stories of success is one thing, but I think we’ve gone too far and created the cult of the entrepreneur. It starts with people idolizing the billionaires in hoodies and assuming they’ll have the same success trajectory, despite the fact that most people don’t experience that type of success with any of their businesses, let alone their first. Then enter a new vocabulary focused on “hustle” and “lean startup” and “minimum viable product,” which glorifies working practically 24/7 for nothing more than equity and crossed fingers. Then add a dash of absurd investments, like the $41 million that went into startup Color before it even launched (it eventually failed spectacularly).
The first problem I see with the cult of the entrepreneur is that for some people the title seems to take precedence over the success of the product or service they created. Like an author who’s never had a book published, calling yourself an entrepreneur is meaningless if you can’t point to the fruits of your entrepreneurship. The word has a misleading air of success.
The glorification of entrepreneurship naturally tempts people to use the term to build themselves up. This is especially evident on Twitter and LinkedIn where I’ve often seen entrepreneur listed in someone’s bio without being able to figure out what he or she actually does. It also has the consequence of undermining people who work hard, achieve great success and are integral to a company’s success without being entrepreneurs — the Sheryl Sandberg rather than the Zuckerberg.
The focus of any business should always be its customers and how you’re providing value for them while making sure your business model is sound and adaptable. There are a lot of moving parts and nobody can make it work alone. There are investors, business partners, people who offer advice along the way, and, of course, the people who end up working for that company in its early stages and as it grows. In fact, these people probably possess a lot of entrepreneurial qualities, but they don’t get to call themselves entrepreneurs because they work for someone else.
With all the hype surrounding entrepreneurs, there’s an elephant in the room: most people want the money, accolades, and power that come with being a successful entrepreneur, but they don’t want to put in the years of hard work.
Even if you accept the fact that being an entrepreneur involves no time off, long hours, and extremely limited resources, you still have to contend with luck. As much as you might want to be the next TechCrunch headline, and as much as you might have a great concept and the skills to make it happen, it might be the wrong time or the wrong place for your idea. As an entrepreneur you’re betting your livelihood and your career at every stage. You might see examples of perceived overnight successes all around you, but you don’t see the years of struggle and failure that often preceded them.
Bitstrips, which exploded onto the app scene recently, was founded in 2007, the same year the first iPhone came out. Even if you have all the confidence in the world in your idea, you don’t know when (if ever) the exact conditions needed for success will come together.
Not everyone is prepared to spend years on a project that likely won’t work out, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Eschewing years of financial struggle and uncertainty to work for a company that has already proven itself does not mean you’ve given up on success or sold yourself short.
The entrepreneurial spirit is a great thing that can manifest itself in different people in many different ways, regardless of what position they hold in a company. Trying to impress people by calling yourself an entrepreneur on social media is not one of them.