entrepreneur |ˌäntrəprəˈnər| noun
a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so.
I am not an entrepreneur, but I know one when I see one — the risks they take define who they are.
Entrepreneurs have no other choice but to take their vision to the world. They invest everything they have into their ideas and the businesses they build to turn them into value. They bore their friends at dinner parties and exhaust their energy (and that of their families) to provide great service to their customers. They use their garages for product development because they can’t afford an office or lab.
Most of all, entrepreneurs take abnormal risks at the hope of outsize personal or social gains.
Before their ideas take hold, they are betting the proverbial farm on it’s success. If the idea fails, it’s back to square one, often without a plan B.
So, entrepreneurs must connect to people who can help them, burn the midnight oil researching their target market, and obsessively test the core hypotheses of their ideas. If it they didn’t do it, no one will.
I had a lunch recently with a local entrepreneur who personifies this definition. If his idea takes hold, it will potentially impact every small and medium business who cares about employee engagement. He has initial customers and is getting great feedback, but I can tell the business is a huge financial risk for him. It’s all consuming and all or nothing.
Conversely, I’ve also mentored individuals with tons of ideas but who are taking no risks to realize them. With these founders, in place of desperation and risk, there is a safety blanket of a 9–5 job. In place of a firm commitment to a vision there is an unproven belief that their idea is unique and original.
And a total lack of risk.
I want these founders to GET REAL. I want them to feel the urge to burn the candle at both ends in pursuit of their vision…and if the current vision isn’t good enough then I want them to pursue a vision that is. I want them to stick out their necks, borrow money from a wealthy Aunt, or somehow just put more skin in the game.
I get it. I was recently not willing to risk my own job security, cushy day job, and free time to build an AI-based stock recommendation platform with some casual business buddies. Without the same risk taking as my fellow founders, I didn’t have equal skin in the game and was not the team member I could be. My involvement started to look less and less like an entrepreneur — as defined above — and more like an advisor/employee.
So, if you are truly all-in on your business, then I suggest you take whatever risks you need to match what you expect to get out of the business. This tells everyone — most importantly yourself — that you are not messing around.
That you would risk it all.