Has the Word 'Entrepreneur' Lost Its Meaning?
We are in the golden age of entrepreneurship. In fact, it has become so mainstream that it’s bordering on cliché.
The majority of generation Y says they want to start a company, according to USA Today. Entrepreneurship is the most popular focus in MBA programs. And half the resumes I see have some sort of self-started company listed at one point or another.
But we need to stop talking about being an entrepreneur. I find that people either use the label entrepreneur to tell everyone how great they are, as if entrepreneurship is the equivalent of Hollywood stardom. Or, people use the label to convey personal disdain, as in, “I want to be an entrepreneur but I’m ….”
In fact, most people are entrepreneurs, whether they embrace the label or not. They have to control their own career and make their own jobs. And most people who do call themselves entrepreneurs are worried that they don’t have an idea, worried that their idea isn’t working, or worried that they are starving and will need to take a staff position at some huge company. So the difference between who is and who isn’t an entrepreneur is vague. We toss around the word entrepreneur so much that the word is quickly becoming meaningless. Here’s why:
1. Everyone is an entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurship means taking responsibility for yourself. It means you assume that there won’t be anyone there to hand you a reliable paycheck, nor will there be anyone else to make sure you’re on a suitable career path. In today’s workforce, you are either thinking this way or you are unemployable. Entrepreneurship is the safety net we hold onto in a very unstable and unforgiving workplace.
2. Entrepreneurship is often a part-time time job. In the shower.
It’s very hard to think of a business idea. Most ideas stink. I have had three startups, all of them funded, and it takes me about three years to come up with a solid, new fundable idea. So yes, I’m an entrepreneur, but I don’t have a company and I don’t have an idea, and I’m just like the guy in the cube next to you who goes to work every day trying to figure out what his next step is. And, like many people, my best ideas happen in the shower.
3. Entrepreneurship with a big E is a big pain.
The kind of company you can exit from, the kind of company that you hear tossed around at cocktail parties like, “He sure has a lot of money now!” Those type of companies are incredibly high-pressure, all-consuming and extremely high-risk. Most ideas don’t succeed even if they get some funding. Most founders kill their personal credit on the idea and don’t exit, and most marriages dissolve when one person is married to their company.
4. The risks of self-employment do not go with parenting.
Look, of course the idea of working for yourself is appealing. Until you have to manage a totally unreliable income and support your kids. Then it’s really scary. Very few people find that the benefits of self-employment outweigh the very real fear of not knowing if you can pay for your kid’s camp next summer. Erratic income is very, very hard on kids. (I would know. My electricity was turned off.)
5. Entrepreneurship is not glamorous. Cashing out is glamorous.
Of course it’s exciting to be the idea person and change the world. But most self-employed people are doing drudge work most of the day. Because when it’s your business, you want to do as much of it as possible in order to protect your profit margin. Entrepreneurs wear forty different hats. You know this. What you don’t know is that 39 of them are entry-level.
So when you walk around saying you want to be an entrepreneur, recognize that what you really want is control over your financial life and recognition for your ideas. You can get that in a wide range of jobs much more easily than you can get it working for yourself.
But this doesn’t mean you are giving up your dream to be an entrepreneur. It means you recognize that entrepreneurship is a mindset that is non-negotiable in today’s market. What is negotiable is how much risk you take. And for most people a startup is simply too chaotic to be enjoyable.
PENELOPE TRUNK | Columnist
Penelope Trunk is the founder of three VC-funded startups. She is the author of the bestselling book, Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success, and her blog, penelopetrunk.com, receives about one million views a month. Earlier in her life Penelope played professional beach volleyball, which, believe it or not, taught her just about everything she needed to know about marketing.