Long ago I used to think that I was an entrepreneur. I thought it was enough to quit your job and work for yourself to call yourself an entrepreneur. That illusion was destroyed when I ran into some real entrepreneurs.
Working with these guys I realized we were two totally different people. They wanted to act on ideas. Sell products. Build businesses. Eat, sleep and breathe this stuff. Talk shop at lunch. Check email first thing in the morning. Close the laptop before bed.
In other words, I didn’t want the responsibility of starting and growing a business. I was a freelancer. Heavy emphasis on the word “free.” To call myself an entrepreneur was a joke. I’d be pulling down the rank of true entrepreneurs if I did that.
You ever make that mistake? Think of entrepreneurs and freelancers as the same thing?
Part of the confusion can come from how people define entrepreneurs. For example, Mayra Jimenez wrote an article in Inc.com called 4 Signs of a True Entrepreneur. Here are the four signs:
- Need for Approval
Jimenez started a business with her husband, so she should know. But I got looking at that list and wondered why that would be exclusive to entrepreneurs.
True, those probably define some entrepreneurs. But that list also describes an NFL punt returner. A wing suit jumper. A chess master like Bobby Fischer. Battlefield generals like George Patton. Writers.
It describes just about anybody who wants to be successful (even if they never do taste success).
What Is a True Entrepreneur?
It’s not just a person who has an idea. That’s a theorist. It’s not just someone who has an idea for a product. That’s an inventor.
Rather, an entrepreneur is a person who has an idea for a product that he can build into a sustainable institution called a business.
You can be a one-time entrepreneur (Steve Jobs). Or you can be a serial entrepreneur (Richard Branson).
Who Do You Want to Be?
Somewhere I read that business writer Jim Collins was speaking to famed business thinker Peter Drucker. I believe the conversation occurred shortly after Collins’ success with Good to Great.
Collins was struggling with the idea of creating a business out of his book, namely a research, training and consultancy firm. Drucker warned him against it: a business is a beast you have to feed.
Collins went on to start the business, and so, in hind sight, that was a historical meeting between the classical freelancer (Drucker) and the classical entrepreneur (Collins).
In the end, we are either a Drucker or a Collins. We either want to build a business or work for a business. No shame in either. Just a decision you have to make.
And that is the pivotal question the potential entrepreneur must ask himself: do I want to build an institution? Or do I simply want to work for myself?
Share your thoughts.