Submitted by Aulet, Bill on Wed, 04/27/2011 - 5:02pm
With talent, energy and the right mindset, being an entrepreneur is not risky. Let me explain why.
Suppose you are readying yourself to be a productive member of society. You can spend your time refining your resume, researching companies to work at, researching job types that would be a good fit for your skills and interests, practicing interviews, and ultimately getting a job you generally like, working for an existing company.
Or you can create your own job by starting a company in the area you are passionate about with the people you want to work with. You are pressed to do things well out of your comfort zone, and you learn to survive.
In the first scenario, you learn some good skills about how to get a job from others, and hopefully your assigned mentor (your boss) is helpful. In the second scenario, you learn to create your own job. You learn to build a team, to operate effectively, and to leverage other resources. You find mentors of your own choosing who match your desires and personal style. Despite (or because of) the challenges and the lack of a pre-existing structure to plug into, you learn valuable skills that allow you to go most anywhere and generate a job you truly love – you control your own destiny.
Is this a bit biased? Yes, but it reflects my own personal experience as well as what I have seen from many others. If you are good, nothing is more challenging and rewarding than being an entrepreneur.
People often say that 90 percent of new companies fail within five years, but this data seems to refer to a U.S. Small Business Administration study that does not focus on technology-based companies. When focusing on technology-based companies from MIT, research by Professor Ed Roberts in his seminal book “Entrepreneurs in High Technology” shows that the closure or bankruptcy rate after 5 years is only 15.5 percent. Quite a difference.
That does not mean that 84.5 percent of the companies IPOed and were resounding successes (although some were), but at a minimum they were able to consistently make payroll and generally employ others. This was true for my first company, Cambridge Decision Dynamics, where we continued to make payroll and could earn a respectable living. I moved on because I simply wanted to make productive use of my time and move onto to two more companies that were increasingly more successful.
Even when a venture is not a wild success, its founders learn something that makes them much more successful in their future ventures. (Some people may learn that perhaps they shouldn’t be entrepreneurs – even still, they gain valuable experience that will help them in the corporate world.)
So what does all of this mean? On Xconomy, I discussed the societal impediments to broader entrepreneurship in places like Korea, Japan and Spain. We need to address these underlying societal perceptions at a broad level, akin to anti-smoking and anti-littering campaigns. We need A Campaign to Educate Society on the Realities of Entrepreneurship, organized around four key points.
Key Point #1: Entrepreneurs Create Jobs. Society treasures people who are positive contributors to society, so entrepreneurs should be recognized and celebrated for their crucial role in new job creation.
Key Point #2: Entrepreneurship = Controlling Your Own Destiny = Stability. No job, in any organization, lasts forever these days. Just ask the middle-aged middle managers at Samsung who were “encouraged” to retire because the company realized they could not compete globally with employees who were not extremely digitally conversant in the latest innovations. Likewise at Vestas in Denmark, where thousands had to be laid off, or Nokia in Finland. There are no job guarantees anymore. Even tenured faculty members at places like Florida State University are getting laid off these days. If your company does poorly enough, you will lose your job regardless of your job performance. Better to learn the skills to create your own job.
Key Point #3: Entrepreneurship = Personal Growth = Personal Satisfaction. Entrepreneurship takes you out of your “comfort zone” to levels you didn’t know you had. Nothing more fully embraces your potential. Compare that to some of my good friends from college who are underutilized and sometimes bitter about being in a large organization. I realize how lucky I am that entrepreneurship tested my limits and gave me a high degree of personal satisfaction.
Key Point #4: Entrepreneurship is Cool. Yes, put a little sizzle on this steak. Get young people excited about entrepreneurship, like they are at MIT. Here at MIT, “entrepreneur” (like “geek”) is an honorific that people aspire to and work hard toward achieving. The winners of the MIT $100K Business Plan Competition are every bit as cool as the quarterback on the football team. Fund some great young role models and make a cool MTV video of them. Celebrate and applaud trying, not just succeeding. Make entrepreneurship a club people want to join.
The bottom line is that in many regions of the world, entrepreneurship is not well-understood. With greater understanding, parents will be more supportive of (or at least neutral toward) the entrepreneurial endeavors of their children and their children’s spouses, while students with sufficient talent, energy and mindset will know that entrepreneurship is perhaps the most stable career option of all. In this way, we will unleash the true entrepreneurial and innovative potential of the world’s regions and take our economy to a new level.
Image credits (from top): hojusaram/Flickr; Fillmore Photography & mceoin/Flickr; Rachel Deppe/Flickr.