“An entrepreneur is someone who jumps off a cliff and builds a plane on the way down.” — Reid Hoffman
Yesterday, my son (15 years old) came back home from his first day as an intern stating:
“I want to have my own business when I grow up; I am not working for someone else”.
That sentence hit me, as I went decades back to remember what was my answer when someone asked me what I want to be when I grow up? I used to say a teacher! Well, did it mean I was not ambitious enough! The answer is NO; my son is from a different generation of which they want to grow fast, rich and big while they are still studying. Therefore, his answer strokes another question in my mind:
“What happens if everyone wants to do business and no one wants to work in a 9-5 job?”
The short answer is that anybody can, but quite honestly, not everybody should.
Millennials have disrupted the labour market, making it acceptable to job hop and complete “tours of duty” until a better offer comes along. In the process, company’s loyalty has become a thing of the past, and everyone needs to accept it.
We can no longer believe in “this idea that people would go to college, study hard, get a degree, and land an entry-level job at a big, stable company.” Nor can we believe in the old 20th century compact of employees slowly working their way up the ladder.
Potentially the whole world could be 1-person companies and most of what we do can still work. Corporations are a relative recent construct in human history and until then a lot of people just worked for themselves.
In fact, this is what is being tested by companies like Uber, Upwork and Airbnb. They all have an army of producers who just work for themselves or in other words entrepreneurs. Instead of buying from a big store, you could buy from an entrepreneur on Ebay, Etsy or other places. Corporations could hire contractors instead of employees.
Another great example is the open source movement. Without major corporations or other entities, large body of independent people were able to create monumental works like Linux and Wikipedia. This open source movement further puts the strain on the idea that one needs large corporations with a lot of employees to create highly complex projects.
There is a classic economics work called the Theory of the firm and its underlying principle is that corporations exist due to high transaction costs. It was historically much cheaper to work with employees within a company than outside.
However, technology is rapidly reducing the external transaction costs, through better payment gateways, reviews, remote working tools etc. It is quite feasible that a few decades from now, we could all be just entrepreneurs – working for ourselves and then offering services to other entrepreneurs through contracts.
This whole question seems like a simple question but it’s not. You see it depends first on what definition you use to describe an entrepreneur. It could be argued that entrepreneur is one of the most misused terms in business today with many people calling themselves or being referred to as entrepreneurs. It is often used to describe someone who owns a business. Full stop.
In a recent Harvard Business Review column, Max Marmer warned about the dangers about “celebretizing” entrepreneurship. In it, he cited the creation of reality television shows that thrust start-ups and entrepreneurs in the spotlight.
Truth be told, being an entrepreneur is hard. It takes a lot of time, effort, energy and, sometimes, money. And – and this is a big one – most entrepreneurs are unsuccessful. Of course, we tend not to celebrate entrepreneurial failures because they would be throwing cold water on a raging party.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m an evangelist for entrepreneurialism. But I don’t believe everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur, and I’m not sure the obsession with entrepreneurs and start-ups has gotten out of hand.
So is everyone a natural entrepreneur? No. Can people become more entrepreneurial? Absolutely, if they are prepared to take a small step out of their comfort zone.