I used to start a university class on entrepreneurship by asking the class to define the word entrepreneur.
It’s a reasonable question. News and discussion is full of pat phrases about entrepreneurs, most of which we take for granted. Politicians talk about entrepreneurs along with job creation, small business, motherhood, and apple pie. Challenge: find a politician who isn’t in favor of entrepreneurship.
But is everybody who claims the title really an entrepreneur? Or, for that matter, do we care? If your annoying neighbor becomes an entrepreneur by having sold one piece of furniture on eBay, do you care?
I liked Robert Jones suggestion: Let’s just change the word entrepreneur. His post 5 reasons we need a new word for entrepreneurs, from last July, has at least four good reasons. He and I and others followed up, but we didn’t come up with anything that great.
His post, however, also inspired Startup and small business expert Rieva Lesonsky to follow up with her post asking what does it really mean to be an entrepreneur? She pulls a lot of different definitions together, offers a menu ranging from the heroic, dreamy, crazy-creative definitions to the way-less-glamorous project manager and social definitions, but concludes with tongue in cheek:
My favorite definition of an entrepreneur comes from Doug Mellinger, the co-founder of Foundation Source, who once told me, “An entrepreneur is someone who will do anything to keep from getting a job.
All of that discussion, however, came jsut a bit after Steve King posted Comparison Small Business Owners to High-tech Entrepreneurs on his blog Small Biz Labs. Steve dives into available research to highlight the huge differences between these two groups. We all talk and think like they’re the same thing. It turns out that they aren’t. Compared to overall small business owners, the techies are way more likely to be well educated, motivated by money, and (unfortunately) male. Steve concludes:
we think policy makers need a better understanding of not just high-growth firms and their founders, but also the less glamorous businesses and business owners that make up the vast majority of small businesses in the U.S. economy.
My favorite definition, in the real world, is from Chris Dixon’s simple milestone post, there are two kinds of people in the world. It’s in this first sentence:
You’ve either started a company or you haven’t. ”Started” doesn’t mean joining as an early employee, or investing or advising or helping out. It means starting with no money, no help, no one who believes in you (except perhaps your closest friends and family), and building an organization from a borrowed cubicle with credit card debt and nowhere to sleep except the office.
Chris exaggerates. Sleeping in the office isn’t necessary. And the ones who develop a plan and raise money are still entrepreneurs. But I’m shocked, by the way, at the level of anger and angst in some of the 263 comments. It’s a simple two-paragraph post, a simple statement, overwhelmed by comments. It shouldn’t be that controversial: You’ve either started a company or you haven’t.
Amen to that.