Most entrepreneurs didn't leap from the crib and start serially founding businesses.

Maybe some did.

Most didn't.

The paths to entrepreneurship are vast and varied... and really complicated. Some paths involve failure. Some paths involve corporate cubicle dwelling. Some include college. Some involve dropping out of college.

There's no single life experience that you must taste before you can claim entrepreneurship status. But there are some trends that characterize entrepreneurs.

1. They went to college.

As much as you hear about the legendary college dropouts who founded successful companies, that's not the tale of most entrepreneurs. According to Startup Bros, 95 percent of entrepreneurs earn a bachelor's degree, and almost half hold advanced degrees.

Some startup advice tells you to "forget college." Others insist that entrepreneurs "still need to earn that college degree." Fact is, there's not a single right answer for everyone. There's simply a right choice for you

College has its benefits. You get to learn stuff, form relationships, work hard, and achieve something. Not a bad preparation for entrepreneurship.

2. They gained experience.

Entrepreneurs don't simply waltz into entrepreneurship with zero experience. In fact, some of the experience they gained may seem irrelevant, and it was definitely low paying.

But experience, regardless of what kind, can serve the entrepreneur. Take these examples:

  • Mark Cuban - bartender
  • Suze Orman - waitress
  • Harrison Ford - carpenter
  • Pejman Nozad - carpet sales
  • Ray Kroc - sold paper cups
  • Mary Kay - sold books door-to-door
  • Andrea Bocelli - nightclub piano player
  • Ang Lee - stay-at-home dad
  • J.K. Rowling - stay-at-home mom

You see? Experience, no matter how humble, is useful.

3. They were immature.

We've all had our periods of immaturity. For entrepreneurs, this seems to be particularly pronounced.

One project from the National Bureau of Economic Research revealed that a lot of entrepreneurs were, well, basically brats.

"Teenagers... typically scored higher on learning aptitude tests, had greater self-esteem, and engaged in more disruptive, illicit activities. The combination of "smart" and "illicit" tendencies as youths accounts for both entry into entrepreneurship and the comparative earnings of entrepreneurs."

The proverbial period of "sowing wild oats" will not consign someone to a future as a burger-flipping Deadhead. In fact, such a period may signal a proclivity to entrepreneurship.

  • Judge Mathis - routinely broke the law as a teen
  • Tim Allen - convicted substance abuser
  • Jay Z - assault, convicted substance abuser
  • Bill Gates - arrested twice for driving infractions

As it turns out, the difference between entrepreneurs and criminals isn't that great. According to Inc., "both intuitively color outside the lines."

4. They wanted to build wealth.

Some 95 percent of Americans will either spend their entire career working a job or owning a job (self-employed freelancers). The remaining 5 percent realize that owning a business is far more enjoyable and far more lucrative.

Wealth building is an inspiration.

"According to the researchers, successful self-incorporated people saw 70 percent more in earnings than successful salaried workers. In other words, they note that 'entrepreneurship offers the possibility of comparably enormous increases in earnings.'" (Source)

5. They worked for other people.

I spent my high school days hawking products like a true wannabe entrepreneur.

But a lot of entrepreneurs didn't start out that way. The lemonade-stand kids who later launched Silicon Valley startups may make for good stories, but they don't mesh with statistical reality.

Most entrepreneurs spent several years in the corporate rat race before launching out on their own.

Here are some stats about entrepreneurs' work history:

  • 75 percent had traditional jobs at other companies.
  • 47 percent launched a company only after they spent ten years working for another business.
  • 18 percent worked for another company for at least 15 years.
  • 96 percent consider their prior work experience to be important.

Chances are, you're reading this article with some level of interest in entrepreneurship. You've toyed with the idea. You've daydreamed about it.

But here's the kicker: You feel trapped in a job. You've got to make an income, right? Should you stay at your job or flee it?

Don't be too impatient. Spending some time in traditional employment is part of the preparation for entrepreneurship.

6. They met a lot of different people.

People like to describe the "path to entrepreneurship." There really isn't a single path, however. There are dozens of paths, each unique.

One thing remains a constant. Entrepreneurs meet people.

There's a glamorous vision of the entrepreneur as a lone ranger, creating a business out of thin air through gritty determination, scrappy skills, and sheer talent.

The reality is different. Businesses are born from groups of people. There is often a single figurehead, but he draws from the collective talent of a team of passionate people.

  • Every Steve Jobs has his Steve Wozniak.
  • Every Bill Gates has his Paul Allen.
  • Every Walt Disney has his Margaret Winkler.

Entrepreneurs co-found companies with other people. They find investment partners. They hire top talent.

Where do those people come from? They come from relationships and partnerships that the entrepreneur forms before he or she creates the company.

Basically, before an entrepreneur can create a business, he or she must form the connections to create that business.

As it turns out, selling books door-to-door or bartending can be one of the most valuable phases in an entrepreneur's life. The more people you meet, the better your chances of finding a co-founder, business partner, or that kickass developer.


In their pre-entrepreneur existence, most entrepreneurs were just normal people doing normal stuff.

Entrepreneurship doesn't require some lightning-from-heaven experience or an Archimedean moment. It doesn't require that you be a genius, hold an Ivy League degree, possess a certain DNA, or have an ideal upbringing.

All it requires is that you be a normal person with a bit of knowledge, a level of drive, and a vision for success.

Are you an entrepreneur? What did you do before you became an entrepreneur?