"It is," the corporate executive said, "just like a startup."

The executive was describing the way his multinational food packaging company enters a new country. According to the executive, several employees are dispatched to the new market and ordered to build a business. While the challenges are significant, what the executive is describing is nothing like a startup, and it isn't entrepreneurship.

Why?

The employees dispatched to sell milk jugs to the good people of Greece aren't funding the new business by mortgaging their house and/or traveling coast-to-coast, begging for investment. If the business fails to gain footing in a market, the likelihood that anyone will see their life savings disappear is relatively minimal.

A corporate expansion requiring employees to be resourceful, creative, and work long hours is not what we talk about when we talk about entrepreneurship.

(Did I steal all but one word of that phrase from Raymond Carver? Yes, yes I did. But Elon Musk isn't the only public figure we can learn from.)

"I am a hustler/disrupter/entrepreneur/game-changer/some other cheesy buzzword that gives me an inflated sense of self-worth and a better chance with the girls at my high school reunion who ignored me for four whole years," said some guy on LinkedIn who connected with you and then immediately sent an email about how he can increase your leads.

The "game-changer" is claiming he is an entrepreneur, not because he started a successful business, but because he went all in on the "entrepreneurship as religion" notion that accounts for (non-scientifically speaking) roughly 1 billion LinkedIn posts every 2.2 seconds.

But posting sunglass-selfies and quoting Elon and Gary Vee isn't entrepreneurship, either.

So, what are we talking about when we talk about entrepreneurship?

We are talking about unending, unglamorous hard work.

We're talking about doing whatever it takes. Six months after starting my communications consultancy, my two largest (and, at the time, only) clients left me within three weeks of each other. One was sold, and the other closed due to a lawsuit.

My family was suddenly looking at losing almost 80 percent of its household income.

What did I do?

I begged and pleaded with old employers for business, some of whom had been more than happy to see me leave. It was humiliating.

My three college degrees and I also signed up to be an Uber driver. Though I was able to find enough clients to avoid having to use the 2007 Kia Minivan we owned at the time as an income-generator, I still get notifications (almost four years later) that Uber needs my updated insurance information if our new car and I want to be part of the sharing economy. 

When corporate executives talk about dispatching employees to a new location--backed by the company vault--to start a business, they aren't talking about entrepreneurship. They are talking about a new branch. It's just like the Chick-Fil-A that recently opened a few miles from my house.

It's exciting, and new, and some people are going to make a lot of money, but it isn't entrepreneurship.

When the "game-changer" slicks back his hair, puts on his sunglasses, attaches his phone to his dash, hits the record button, and starts calling himself a visionary, he is also not an entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurship is not glamorous. It isn't a risk-free corporate-backed opportunity that never makes you wonder whether you did the right thing, or where your next paycheck will come from.

What we talk about when we talk about entrepreneurship is hard work. It's risk. It's fear.

And it's worth it.

But anyone who decides to start their own company should know the reality--not the religion. 

Published on: Mar 7, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.