Who doesn't want to be an entrepreneur?

Thanks to the endless lineup of reality shows like Shark Tank, podcasts like Startup, and media coverage on Silicon Valley billionaires, entrepreneurship has become one of the top coveted career paths among Millennials.

The prevailing wisdom is that this is a good thing. It's good that students and young people are being encouraged to start their own businesses, instead of solely relying on someone else to give them a job.

That may be true - but that doesn't mean that everyone should pursue an entrepreneurial career.

In fact, if you ask Ben Lamm, founder and CEO of the AI startup Hypergiant, not everyone can pursue an entrepreneurial career. And that's because, as he says:

Entrepreneurs are born. Not made.

The popularity of the entrepreneur in pop culture has given us all ample opportunity to become acquainted with the archetype.

Entrepreneurs are driven, we're told. They're action-oriented. They're unafraid of failure (not true, by the way). They want to found their companies, grow them, and sell, and all on a timeline that's way shorter than that of a traditional small business.

What's more, anyone can fashion themselves into an entrepreneur, if only they're willing to sacrifice their time, money, and possibly their relationships in service of realizing a dream. Self-made entrepreneurs are the new (and gender-neutral) self-made man.

But Lamm, who's an expert on entrepreneurship and a serial entrepreneur himself, thinks a bit differently.

He believes that while anyone can become a business owner, true entrepreneurs are born with certain traits that can't be taught. "Serial entrepreneurs have an insatiable curiosity and drive, and are also never satisfied," he says. "That's different from being a business owner, and it's certainly not a path that everyone is cut out for."

Lamm knows this well. He'd launched a series of successful and ambitious companies, Chaotic Moon, Team Chaos, and Conversable all before launching his most recent endeavor - Hypergiant, which is perhaps more ambitious than all the previous ventures combined.

Hypergiant offers custom AI and machine learning solutions to businesses while also incubating their own products and while building an early stage venture division. For example, Hypergiant developed the world's first AI mixologist for restaurant chain TGI Friday's. The solution allows guests to answer a few questions and then receive a unique drink tailored exactly to their preferences.

Lamm could easily have stopped with Conversable, and counted himself a success. That company, which develops chatbots, counts as clients national brands like Wingstop, Pizza Hut, and Whole Foods.

However, he knew he had more to do - and he needed to get out there and do it. And this is, perhaps, the hallmark of the entrepreneur: the insatiable need to win, and to win for your customers. That, Lamm says, is what will make you truly successful.

So what does this mean? Should we stop telling young people to become entrepreneurs?

If entrepreneurs are born, rather than made, how does that change the way we talk about entrepreneurship with the young people who come to us for advice on starting their own company? How does it change how we talk about entrepreneurship in the larger culture?

For one thing, we could certainly tone down the glamour associated with being an entrepreneur. As all of us who've been down this path know, being an entrepreneur comes with a great deal of sacrifice. As Lamm has said, it's more of a lifestyle than a career. For entrepreneurs, the business can easily start taking over the rest of your life.

For another, maybe we should start recognizing that you don't have to be an entrepreneur in order to make meaningful, valuable contributions to society.

It's ok to work for someone else.

It's ok to start a business that you never, ever intend to sell.

Young people need to know that not everyone is meant to run their own startup in Silicon Valley, or New York, or Dallas.

By freeing the term "entrepreneur" from its overly-hyped trappings, we can free up more people, both young and old, from the pressure of conforming to a path that's not only difficult, but also emotionally and physically exhausting. Who knows where else they may end up putting their talent?

Published on: Apr 18, 2018