Back in the dot-com boom days, there was a raging debate going on – if you were very involved in that crazy scene you might remember this. The debate had to do with entrepreneurial motivations – you could call it the battle between the Inventors and the Business Launchers. Inventors, of course, were brainiac idea-people (and very often technical ones) who had invented something cool, and started a company to monetize that invention.
And the Inventor mode was viewed as the most ‘pure’ of entrepreneurial motivations (by the Inventor crowd, anyway) because their impetus for launching a business was to bring something cool and new to the marketplace.
On the other side of the debate were the Business Launchers – that’s my term, to differentiate these entrepreneurs from the inventor types – people who didn’t have any product ideas of their own, but liked starting businesses and were good at it. Some of them had time during that brief era to launch three or four businesses in a row! The Business Launcher’s mantra was, “Hey, I don’t have the ideas, but I find people who do. I just like to start businesses.” So these were the two prevailing entrepreneurial modes or starting points.
What’s funny about my entrepreneurial history is that I didn’t come from either of these perspectives. I had started a solo consulting business, but my current business arose strictly on its own; the last thing I was planning to do was to launch a company. I started a women’s network and it grew pretty rapidly. When I quit my last “real” job, in a VC-funded startup, back in 2001, I realized that I’d have to either abandon my women’s network or devise a way for it to make money. And that was that – I became an entrepreneur by default. It’s not a bad way to go.
We didn’t start with a business plan or an org chart or a product roadmap. We were in business for two years before we even had a product to sell. Our customers have had a massive influence on our direction. That’s not such a bad thing!
I wish every corporate person could have some entrepreneurial experience to refine his or her business education. There is no academic program that can substitute for having to make payroll on any given Friday. It’s a powerful teaching aid, you could say. What’s great about the entrepreneurial process is that, no matter what bad decisions you’ve made in a day or what long list of tasks faces you in the morning, you eventually have to go to sleep. Biology overpowers all; and you sleep. And over time, you learn to put the day’s trials aside and put your head on the pillow. If you can say to yourself, “I did the best I could, today” you can even get a little separation between work and the rest of your life.
Entrepreneurism is not for the faint of heart, let me be quick to say. Corporate life is full of trophies and trappings and accolades that remind you how wonderful and praiseworthy you are. Why, a big part of the corporate lifestyle is amassing and showcasing those trophies – things like titles, staffs, budgets, and high-profile appointments. Entrepreneurs, until they become very successful, don’t have time for those things. For them it’s all business, all the time.
What’s your entrepreneurial story? Why not share it with us, by writing a comment to this blog post. If you have a question, I’ll answer it in the next posting.