“No one has gone to school to be a CEO—you don’t learn this except by getting in there and figuring it out”
~Jerry Colonna (Venture Capitalist)
I think there’s this notion that a certain set of characteristics determine what an entrepreneur is, that by some definition of the word, if you’re not crazy enough, stubborn enough, willing to put it all on the line – then you couldn’t possibly make it as an entrepreneur. I’ve never held a full time job, even after graduating college in 2009. I believed that a job would only detract from realizing a dream in entrepreneurship – because that’s what the books, the Internet, the media led me to believe. That starting a business, as Reid Hoffman (Founder of LinkedIn) would say, is like, “Jumping off a cliff and assembling an airplane on the way down.” And I don’t think all that is true – but that’s what I used to believe.
I think as a whole, many (aspiring) entrepreneurs are inspired by success stories that mainstream publications bring to light, such as with Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, Steve Jobs and Apple, HP, Instagram, LinkedIn, FedEx, you name it. But here’s the issue with that, you never hear about the guy who created a successful six or even seven figure business. It’s always about “Facebook worth $100 Billion” or “Instagram acquired for $1 Billion,” etc. And even more so, I feel as though technology publications are celebrating the mere fact that entrepreneurs are raising money, instead of making money. This isn’t a jab towards the media (my fiancé works for NBC); this is just what’s interesting to the masses. But what’s interesting isn’t necessarily the most repeatable path for entrepreneurs.
What Type of Entrepreneur Do You Want to Be?
The Startup Entrepreneur – The most celebrated type of entrepreneur is usually the guy swinging for the fences, a multi-million or billion dollar niche ripe for disruption. For you it’s not 9-5, it’s 24/7. The exact definition of a “startup” really depends on whom you ask, but the general consensus in the tech community is that a startup is an organization in search of a repeatable and scalable business model under conditions of great uncertainty. Think technology startups, like Facebook or Instagram in the early days. Once startups find their product/market fit and become profitable, you tend to grow out of being called a “startup.”
Examples of two recent popular acquisitions:
- Instagram – Acquired by Facebook for $1 Billion
- Tumblr - Acquired by Yahoo for ~$1 Billion
The Lifestyle Entrepreneur – Popularized by Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Work Week, the lifestyle entrepreneur aspires to create an Internet business that generates enough profit to fund a lifestyle that values time over money. This includes, but is not limited to: selling a product or service online, starting an affiliate business, and starting a blog. Although the cost to startup is small, there are blogs that have made the transition to media empires:
- The Huffington Post – Acquired by AOL for $315 Million
- Refinery29 and Mashable have rumored valuations upwards of $100M+
Small Business Entrepreneur – Most other businesses usually fall into this category, with the loose definition of the word “small business,” most niches can make millions per year and have hundreds of employees and still be considered a small business according to the Small Business Administration (SBA).
Becoming an Entrepreneur Doesn’t Have to Mean, “Go Big or Go Home.”
I feel as though the media turns tech startup entrepreneurs into celebrities, and thus too many aspiring entrepreneurs are focusing on the “next big idea” instead of focusing on creating a profitable business, refining an already successful business model. I think startups are great; we need the Zuckerberg’s and the Steve Job’s of the world to breathe new life into tired industries. But remember that the media celebrates their stories for a reason; remember that for every successful startup – there are a hundred that fail. So don’t set out to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, even if that means not having to worry about who’s going to play you in your version of The Social Network. Becoming an entrepreneur doesn’t have to mean quitting your job, it doesn’t have to mean spending your life savings, and starting a business today won’t require looking for venture funding. Instead, invest a little bit of money and consider selling a product online, start a blog, become a consultant and learn how to make your first dollar… not $1 billion.
What do you guys think? What advice would you give to someone on how to become an entrepreneur? Let me know in the comments below!
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