Friday, February 19, 2010

The Beast Called Entrepreneur

I just read a blog entry by Fred Wilson, a blogging venture capitalist from New York, on his discussion with a Wharton Professor on the qualities of entrepreneurship. Usually, I read Fred's blog for grins and giggles, and don't think much of it. But today, it really stuck in my craw. Why?

As someone standing on the crossroads of a (hopefully) impending employment decision, I'm faced with a breadth of options, from joining the largest of the large companies and making my way through the organizational quagmire, but nonetheless, having precious little concern that my weekly food pellet in the form of a check will hit my bank account. Or, I could join where food is dispensed with less consistency, but the flavor of the organizational angst couldn't be more distinct. The work at each are different. The salaries are different. The word "bonus" at one implies "regular income delivered annually" while at the other it means "pipe dream, as likely to appear as a yeti."

There are about 100 decision points associated with opting for one instead of the other. And, I weigh them every day these days.

But, Fred's premise is that there is such a creature known as an entrepreneur for whom this decision doesn't exist. He or she cannot help but deploy their skillset in high risk environments of reasonably anarchy. He or she has an unfailing hubris in themselves and their abilities. He or she also possesses such skills as charisma, likeability, passion, vision, etc.

Here's where I have the problem: I am an entrepreneur. This last job experience, I think, proves I have the stomach for more risk in my work life and more unmitigated stupid than is sane to absorb. But, I clearly am also faced with what is a real decision point - between big and small - and my entrepreneurial nature is not forcing that choice for me. It's opening up the small option, but not closing the big. So, I firmly believe that these definitions of entrepreneur fall short, inasmuch as they exclude rational folks like me that walk the line.

I've worked with Fred Wilson's entrepreneur creature. They tend to suffer from an aggrandized sense of self. They tend to be over-optimistic. They tend to discount or mold reality to meet their needs. They tend to be the ones who will max out their credit cards to buy servers, and then ask you for $5m in investment. Because that's the person you want to trust with millions of dollars. The one who can't manage a Mastercard.

That person isn't an entrepreneur. That person is a modern day, nerdier version of the mythical hero whose template goes back to the Illiad. Achilles. Napoleon. Spartacus. Robin Hood. We love to bet on these folks because they make excellent movie plots in our minds, with easy secondary roles for Xena, Warrior Princess. No one wants to back George Bailey. He's too consistent. To boring. He isn't selling you the snake oil of his dreams. But, these creatures are less entrepreneurs, in my mind, and more "people without the interpersonal abilities (disabilities) that make large organizational life possible." So many are startup people because the large company option simply isn't open to them.

What is a real entrepreneur? It's someone who can withstand the risk of inconsistent food pellets, and has the drive and stamina to significant amounts of work towards a goal. Period.

1 comment:

Priya said...

this is your best written post ever! mark it as best of thong charm. also i completely agree with everything you said.