What I no longer believe about entrepreneurship and ecosystem building.
Myths, fairy tales and not so ‘best practices’.
Rounding out my 1st year as an ESHIP community activator for ecosystem building practioners, I continue to learn from amazing people who are helping entrepreneurs and communities across the country and the world. I had some notions as I approached this work, along with some experiences and what I was taught along the way. Over the year I’ve been revisiting some of the stories we tell ourselves and I no longer align with what I thought was true…
Myth #1 ~ small business owners are not entrepreneurs.
Small business owners, particularly Main Street types are not commonly considered entrepreneurs. There are lots of articles on the internet pointing to the differences between small business owners and entrepreneurs. Much of what’s published differentiate by the size of the problem they’re solving or the types of businesses…are they utilizing new ideas or risky enough to be considered “entrepreneurial”. It’s a lot of labeling and pigeon holing in my opinion. Recently a friend ranted, “stop debating what entrepreneurs are and help them already!”. While it’s not kitschy enough to # or fit on a t-shirt, I agree with him, what a waste of time and energy.
Myth #2 ~ entrepreneurs are young and white.
Yes, it’s true that white men get more funding than any other demographic. The entrepreneur prototypes may seem to look like young Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs, but the reality is that 60% of people who start small businesses are between the ages of 40 and 60. And while 3 out of every 5 entrepreneurs are White/Caucasian, but 1 out of 4 are Hispanic and over 25% of entrepreneurs are immigrants*. While there are more male owned businesses, there are higher success rates for women owned ventures.**
Myth #3 ~ entrepreneurship has to be about disruption and something new.
There are a number of definitions of “entrepreneurship”. Some feel it’s about being revolutionary and radical change. I believe it is about solving problems. (remember Myth #1?) I lost a friendship because I told my interior designer friend he wasn’t entrepreneurial.I didn’t see what he did as particularly life changing. Yes, it was avant-garde and progressive, but because I was schooled in the idea that it needed to have a certain amount of impact and change, I dismissed his work. He solves problems all the time and he’s an entrepreneur, I’m sorry I didn’t realize this sooner.
Myth #4 ~ you have start a business to be entrepreneurial.
Though I was surrounded by entrepreneurs all my life, like my mother and grandfathers, who started and owned businesses. Again, I never really thought of them as entrepreneurs. While many entrepreneurs create enterprises, if we continue viewing entrepreneurs as problem solvers, we see there are ways people can discover, analyze and resolve challenges without the creation of profit focused ventures. Whether you go on to run businesses like my family members have, work in the corporate world, for non-profits or government, entrepreneurial skills are universal.
Myth #5 ~ all you need is a great idea.
It’s true that one great idea can change the world, but that’s not the whole truth. Indeed it’s imperative to have more than half baked notions and a pocket full of possibilities. It does however require more than a single thought, there’s a team of devoted makers, some financially invested supporters, a community of ecosystem builders, customers, resilience, timing and some luck. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but you’ll need almost all of this and a few other things to make it work. The most important thing is EXECUTION. There are billions of ideas, but unless they are acted on they’re not much more than a cool conversation.
Myth #6 ~ if you want to be an entrepreneur you need to be in the Silicon Valley ( or insert a big city here)
Silicon Valley is synonymous with all things entrepreneurship. Does it mean your venture will be more likely to move forward and be sustainable? Meh. Even with all the resources, competition and high cost of living is prevalent on the coasts. There’s a lot going on outside of the usual suspects; NYC, Chicago, San Francisco, Austin and Denver. Ironically two of the most active investors aren’t even in the US (according to Forbes: Startup- Chile & Sequoia Capital China). Pittsburgh has one of the top startup accelerators and if you’re interested in robotics, you should head to York, PA. You can get some of the fastest internet in the country in Chattanooga, TN. Steve Case (AOL) continues to explore start ups off the beaten track with Revolution LLC’s (venture capital initiative) Rise of the Rest. Also, one of the leading foundations focused on entrepreneurship is in the middle of the country.
Myth #7 ~ people want to steal your ideas.
I know you have a fantastic, world changing, epic idea. The thing is, we actually all do at one time or another. The fear is, if you share the idea, someone will take it and do it, then you will be left with nothing. The fact is that no one loves your idea baby like you do. But not everyone wants to raise your child. To continue with this analogy, it takes a village and to really be successful, sharing your idea will garner valuable input from others. The collective brainpower and efforts will foster a vibrant and resilient entity. Also, other people are in love with their own idea babies, and if you collaborate on something it becomes part of a group of ideas and not solely yours. Does that mean someone won’t come along and do something with your idea and exclude you? no. But then they will add some of their notions and it will not exactly be yours, though you might have inspired them.
Myth #8 ~ failure is lethal and dissension is bad.
I’m going to lump these together since they go hand in hand. Failure isn’t as bad as reported and when people disagree with you, it’s not always just to be contrary. In fact, it’s the way we learn. No one has all the right answers. Those who are successful were probably wrong a great number of the time. During their journey they were probably mistaken and needed to adjust their assumptions. Perhaps they failed in school (yes, Einstein failed subjects, not math but botany, zoology and some language requirements on an entrance exam). You know what most people do when something doesn’t work out? It makes us try new things. How else can you improve? Also, just because others don’t agree with your views doesn’t mean either one of you is wrong (not a political statement, but it’s mostly true for that as well). I no longer strive to get “cooperation”; for me it’s too much ‘going along to get along’. Yes, you can continue to do things as they have always been done. It’s safe. But, innovation and creativity stems from doing something different, and that is a lot more interesting to me.
Not so best practice #1 ~ it takes insane work ethics to be successful.
In order to be on the caliber of Tim Cook (Apple), Mark Cuban (Dallas Mavericks) and Marissa Meyer (Yahoo) you need to work all hours of the day and night, forgo vacations and work focused all the time.**** There’s no denying these people and are “successful” in that they have achieved a high level of prominence and financial wealth. Maybe it comes down to your goals. If fame and fortune is what you seek, perhaps this is a way. But burnout is real and it’s really no fun to have all the stuff and not be able to enjoy it.
Not so best practice #2~ give before you get.
Among ecosystem builders there’s a common theme that we should give before we get. I understand the anti-transactional/ pro-relationship approach that’s being encouraged. The thing is, not everyone comes from a place of privilege and sometimes you don’t know how or what to give. How much are you supposed to give before it’s acceptable to get? Is what you’re giving the same value as what the other person is giving? I prefer to invite people to come with a sharing mindset. Give when you can, take what you need and maybe parse out a little to others so everyone has something.
Not so best practice #3 ~ be nice to everyone.
This isn’t about bad players and behaving in a manner that’s not ideal. (I have another blog about that). We think entrepreneurs need constant cheerleaders and we should continuously encourage them.The thing is, while it’s hard and we should root them on, sometimes we need to be kind and not just nice. Being nice is about pleasantly making people feel good about what’s going on. Kindness at times sounds like telling people the venture they are working on is just not good. While that may not feel good, in the end it’s the kindest thing you might do for someone.
Fairytale(in 3 parts) ~ part 1 (fantasy): unicorns are needed.
Many places believe they need big companies, primarily tech and legacy enterprises, like Amazon, to move into their community to infuse and insure prosperity and resilience into their ecosystem. Unicorn companies are defined as tech companies that reach $1 Billion in market value. In September of 2017 Amazon announced it was looking for a location for a second headquarters. More than 200 cities in North America offered billions of dollars in perks to bring them into their community. The thing is most companies of that size and age are zero sum for job creation.*** Also the culture of gobbling up your competition, frenzied growth and self disruption cannot be healthy or sustainable for employees and the long term.
Fairytale ~ part 2 (problem and solution): we need zebras, not unicorns.
I agree there needs to be a better way…enter the zebra. Zebra companies are not aimed at disrupting, but aim to be profitable AND improve society. They are mutualistic because by banding together in groups, they protect and preserve one another. Their individual input results in stronger collective output. Yes, I feel zebra companies are more attractive than the elusive unicorn, but…
Fairytale ~ part 3 (universal lesson): unicorns and zebras are the wrong focus.
I believe we mislabeled and focused on the wrong subject. We exalted the company that was created instead of the true heroes. Unicorns and Zebras are living creatures, they are not a set of ledgers, stock options and profit margins. We seek more companies instead of breeding more unicorns and zebras. When we teach entrepreneurial mindset, learn and celebrate failure, and support growth, design and resilience; we will be cultivating more companies, organizations and ventures. It’s not about just one great idea, it’s about inspired, empowered people.
So… should we stop telling stories?
No, we should keep sharing experiences, ideas and practices. Parables and fables are the best way to learn and pass along wisdom. We simply need to revisit them and see if these make sense anymore. If they no longer serve us, stop perpetuating the myth, revise our practices and update the fairytales. We don’t need to keep telling the same old stories, these are not what legends are made of…create your own truth and share that tale.
~ Model what’s needed to create what’s possible~