Article Credit: Ben Lamm Guest Writer (Co-founder and CEO of Conversable)
We have gotten a bit carried away with the “entrepreneur” label. So many business people are now considered entrepreneurs that it is now easier to figure out who’s who if we just have the non-entrepreneurs raise their hands. Too often, I see people confusing entrepreneurs with small-business owners. A lot more people are qualified to run a Jamba Juice than take companies from inception, through market traction, funding, growth and eventual IPO or exit.
Someone who has founded a number of startups and had successful acquisitions, is an entrepreneur. Our characteristics have been documented, analyzed, listed endlessly, and mostly, it’s all missed the point. We need to understand the differences between the two.
The entrepreneurs are….
The fruit of an entrepreneur’s labor is the insatiable need for more, more and more. We can’t stop, and we’re not being hyperbolic when we say that. Despite the purveying assumption, entrepreneurs are far from fearless. In fact, entrepreneurs are less driven by some moral authority or economic reward and more by the paralyzing fear of failure and the fear of missed opportunity. The true fear is not living up to what the entrepreneur truly believes is the maximized opportunity. This fear of perceived failure is worse than failure itself. Silicon Valley types don’t celebrate failure, because they’re full of themselves; they celebrate it because it’s too hard to look at themselves in the mirror when they fail. The concept of “failing forward” or “you aren’t pushing hard enough if you aren’t failing” are all mantras that make some entrepreneurs too happy to just continue to rinse and repeat the venture life-cycle.
Those are the entrepreneurs I know. And if nothing else, that description is more accurate than what we’ve been hearing for the past decade. Entrepreneurs don’t dare to be different, they are different.
You might be a small-business owner if…
Small-business owners, on the contrary, build businesses incrementally, bit by bit. They often solve smaller, localized problems with their business and are not looking to radically move the needle. They’re the broad base of employment in America for this reason — they cover a lot of surface area, but aren’t disrupting the status quo, creating entire new fields, or accelerating an entire market forward.
Small-business owners seek lower risk — if it’s a moonshot, it’s by accident. It all tracks back to a timeline that maps far beyond that of entrepreneurs. Small businesses are created with the goal of sustaining a living for the owners and their employees. There’s nothing special or serial about them. These are the people you should ask about work-life balance in an interview.
Decoupling is the only way
While both entrepreneurs and small-business owners may have some similar entrepreneurial genes at their core, we can’t ignore the differences between the two that ultimately define their role in our economy. We shouldn’t be angry that everyone isn’t an entrepreneur, but celebrate it. The world and economy needs balance.
Entrepreneurs, at their core, are rare, transformative and risky. They are going to propel the society forward with big leaps of creative disruption. Small-business owners give us a stable base that de-risks the moonshots and protects us from the fallout of failures.
I’m not asking you to make a value judgement of one over the other, but consider this: we’ve been encouraging people to become entrepreneurs for decades and the startup failure rate has reached 90 percent. We shouldn’t want everyone to be an entrepreneur. It’s not about separating the professionals from the amateurs, either. It’s about responsible approaches to economic growth and societal change.