The Term “Entrepreneur” is the Biggest Problem with Startup Advice
There’s no shortage of advice for entrepreneurs. From blogs, to books, to meetups, to your neighbor, everyone has advice for entrepreneurs. The only problem is…the word “entrepreneur” is dangerously broad. Let’s look at a definition from dictionary.com. An entrepreneur is “a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.” The principle issue is that advice givers have a particular type of entrepreneur in mind when giving advice. But since readers and listeners can’t be in the head of the advice givers, they can interpret only what’s said. And what’s said may not be meant for the type of entrepreneur the reader/listener happens to be. In such situations, acting on said advice can be dangerous. My hope is that proposing more specific ways to refer to entrepreneurs, advice givers can be more precise in who they’re targeting.
Why “Entrepreneur” Is Insufficient
Because, when it comes to advice, suggesting that your local barbershop owner and Elon Musk are in any way in the same category seems criminal, punishable by public caning. The chasm between your local barbershop owner and Elon Musk is, without exaggeration, gargantuan. This effect isn’t due solely to their being in different industries; the chasm can be just as massive for those in the same industry. LonelyBoy13’s latest Android app puts him in the same category as Larry Page in the same way participating in a school play puts you in the same category as Leonardo DiCaprio.
The fundamental issue is this: advice to entrepreneurs is in dire need of specificity.
Without specificity of what segment of entrepreneurs you’re referring to, it’s incredibly easy to give reasonable sounding bad advice — or, good advice. Whether the advice is good or bad depends on the type of entrepreneur you are. Let’s exemplify this a little.
In this post, we’ll look at three pieces of common entrepreneurial wisdom and explore their intent. After exploring them, we’ll look at categories of entrepreneurs I’d like to add to the everyday lexicon of entrepreneurial advice givers. Having seen my proposed list, we’ll revisit our three pieces of common wisdom, but this time, from the perspectives of entrepreneurs from a sample of the different categories.
Shall we begin?
“Get a lot of users first, and worry about monetization later.”
The idea is that if you get a lot of highly engaged users, you’ll find a way to make money. This truth makes the creation of a highly engaging product paramount. It’s well-known that in this creation process you’ll likely find that your initial product idea was wrong. If that’s true, you’ll be glad you didn’t waste time figuring out monetization for a wrong idea.
“Don’t worry, be crappy.” (A wonderful phrasing from Guy Kawasaki)
The idea here is that obsessing over your product is the wrong move. Ship the imperfect product. Once you ship, you’ll see the response. With feedback, you’ll be able to iterate. With iteration, your product will approach perfection. While the product is on its way to perfection, why not allow it to add value to those it can help along the way?
“Only hire the best.”
This idea doesn’t require any explanation does it? I mean, under what circumstances would someone not “hire the best” on purpose? Entrepreneurs are fully aware that who they hire will form the DNA of the companies they build. With the best, you’re taking a risky proposition (a startup), and making it less risky. Without the best, you’re taking a risky proposition, and making it more risky.
Getting More Specific Than “Entrepreneur”
Below are a collection of more specific terms for meaningfully different entrepreneurs. An entrepreneur will likely classify herself into more than one of these groups. I avoid getting discipline specific, because that’s just a really long rabbit hole. But, the reality is if your advice is discipline specific, you should totally acknowledge that as an advice giver. And now, on with the terms!
In ‘The 4-Hour Workweek’, Tim Ferriss introduces the idea of a muse. A muse is “an automated vehicle for generating cash without consuming time.” A muse isn’t passion driven. It’s cash driven.
Imagine you noticed that people in offices tend to write their name on bottles and put them back in the fridge. Realizing this as a potential economic opportunity, you start selling personalized bottle holders that are automatically produced on-demand. All a user needs to do is visit your website, pick a bottle holder, and specify what they want on it (e.g., a name, a couple initials). Do you care about personalized bottle holders? Probably not. Would you like the additional $5000 per month it throws off? Abso-freaking-lutely.
A Passionpreneur starts a company because she has a passion for what she does. This is the lawyer, that has been practicing law for a decade, but deep down always knew that she really wanted to be a yoga instructor. So against the advice of others, she leaves the security of her high-paying job to instruct yogis at her own studio.
While the passion may exist before the company, it doesn’t have to. Lots of Passionpreneurs find their passion after seeing some success in their company. The guy that is passionate about his trash hauling business probably didn’t start out that way. But over time, as his business expanded and people began to ask him to speak about his success at “Entrepreneur of the Year” ceremonies, he managed to find the beauty in it.
A Hustlepreneur comes in two flavors: the dreamer hustler and the just-to-get-by hustler. The dreamer hustler is pursuing a big dream. The hustle is only a stepping stone to her dream. For someone with aspirations of attending Art School, a hustle might look like drawing sketches of people for a fee.
The just-to-get-by hustler does whatever he can to make money. This is the guy that shows up in your neighborhood barbershop trying to sell pirated music, movies, or jewelry. He’s a one-man marketplace. He tries his best to produce what the market “demands.” And if he can’t produce it, he’ll try to convince you that you need what he already has.
First, it’s important to note that the term Techpreneur is only marginally better than the term entrepreneur. Depending on where you live, it can be difficult to find entrepreneurs that are not building technology. That said, Techpreneur is more specific than entrepreneur (and thus better :-). If you have to build technology to deliver your product/service, you’re a Techpreneur. The folks that started Uber are Techpreneurs. To be a real-time logistics platform, you need to build technology. Elon musk is a Techpreneur. To send rockets into space and try to land them again, you need to build technology.
Brick&Mortarpreneurs do not need to build technology to deliver their product or service. While such entrepreneurs may have a presence online, that’s not their bread and butter. Most (if not all) of their business is derived from real-world interactions in physical “Brick and Mortar” buildings. Interactions don’t have to happen in a building, but the vast majority must happen in the real-world. The person that started your local liquor store is a great example of a Brick&Mortarpreneur.
A B2Cpreneur is a Business-to-Consumer (B2C) entrepreneur. She produces an offering that is designed to be sold/delivered directly to end users. Rovio, the wonderful company that brought us the once famed ‘Angry Birds,’ is an example of a B2C company started by B2Cpreneurs. The games Rovio created were designed for end users.
A B2Bpreneur is a Business-to-Business (B2B) entrepreneur. She produces an offering that is designed to be sold/delivered directly to other businesses. Marc Benioff, a founder of Salesforce is an example of this kind of entrepreneur. The end users for Salesforce are other businesses.
Nonprofpreneurs are not interested in generating profits for the venture they are creating. If there is a year where there is excess revenue, that money is put toward achieving the mission of the non-profit. Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia is a Nonprofpreneur.
A Socpreneur’s (phonetically spelled as “Soshpreneur”) principle objective is to affect social change in the world. Notice that this is not the same thing as not caring about profits. If the venture is a for-profit company, the Socpreneur definitely cares about profits! Hugh Evans of the Global Poverty Project is an example of a Socpreneur.
FDApreneurs have to wait for FDA approval before their ventures can be legit. This approval process is often long and laborious. So much can ride on a single clinical trial. Despite this risk, FDApreneurs still get through them and bring value to the marketplace. The founders at Ekso Bionics are FDApreneurs.
Govpreneurs earn the majority of their revenue from the government. Thus, most if not all of their effort is dedicated to soliciting and serving the government. You wouldn’t believe it, but there are companies that exist only to write proposals to the government. From what I hear, it can be a lucrative business! Many Govpreneurs are contractors with the government and provide some type of service. The founder of Four Points Technology is an example of a Govpreneur.
Gigpreneurs live and die on the gig. Whether it’s being a comedian, a musician, or a writer, going from one gig to the next is how revenue is generated. You’ll find that while they pursue their gigs, they usually have another job to actually pay the bills. This reality isn’t always true though. Some do quite well, like software developers. Some earn enough from gigs to pay their bills.
Revisiting Our Pearls of Startup Wisdom
Now that we have an expanded view of the different types of entrepreneurs, let’s revisit the startup wisdom we examined at the beginning of this post.
“Get a lot of users and figure out monetization later.”
If you’re a Hustlepreneur that’s trying to get by, you don’t have the luxury of figuring out monetization later. You have to figure out monetization now! In fact, monetization is the first thing a Hustlepreneur figures out.
“Don’t worry, be crappy.”
In an FDApreneur’s world, if you’re crappy, people die. Actually, that’s not true. Not only that, you won’t even make it through the FDA approval process! Don’t expect to see any FDApreneurs not worrying and being crappy anytime soon.
“Only hire the best.”
If you’re a Govpreneur and you know that the government will pay the same amount for each warm body you can produce, what’s the benefit of hiring “the best”? Answer: there is none. A Govpreneur’s motivation is to simply get someone that isn’t a total jackass.
Having discussed different types of entrepreneurs, hopefully advice givers can appreciate these differences. And with this appreciation, be more precise about the group of entrepreneurs they’re actually referring to. But if after all this advice givers are just plain ol’ stubborn, then as a consumer of advice, hopefully you can at least consider what type of entrepreneur you might be and whether the advice makes any sense for your situation.