If you've been paying attention to the massive valuations being given to companies like Facebook and Twitter through secondary markets and the easy money that's being lavished on new startups in Silicon Valley these days, you're not surprised at the latest generation of entrepreneurs seeking to become the next Mark Zuckerbergs.
Bubble or not, good times are here again for the time being, and this time around, the good times have built up a new phenomenon: the Cult of the Entrepreneur.
You see it just about everywhere these days. Its primary characteristic: the glorification of the entrepreneur who starts with nothing, and against all odds, manages to succeed.
The Cult of the Entrepreneur is epitomized by blog posts like that of well-known angel investor Chris Dixon, who the other day wrote:
You’ve either started a company or you haven’t. ”Started” doesn’t mean joining as an early employee, or investing or advising or helping out.
It means starting with no money, no help, no one who believes in you (except perhaps your closest friends and family), and building an organization from a borrowed cubicle with credit card debt and nowhere to sleep except the office.
He goes on:
It almost invariably means being dismissed by arrogant investors who show up a half hour late, totally unprepared and then instead of saying “no” give you non-committal rejections like “we invest at later stage companies.” It means looking prospective employees in the eyes and convincing them to leave safe jobs, quit everything and throw their lot in with you.
It means having pundits in the press and blogs who’ve never built anything criticize you and armchair quarterback your every mistake. It means lying awake at night worrying about running out of cash and having a constant knot in your stomach during the day fearing you’ll disappoint the few people who believed in you and validate your smug doubters.
It's the perfect script for a Hollywood movie, but is this really what being an entrepreneur is all about?
In my opinion, no. Entrepreneurship is a wonderful thing that should be encouraged, and the internet continues to serve as one of the most powerful platforms for entrepreneurship today.
But not every individual starting a company is an entrepreneur, and the type of person described by folks like Dixon have what I like to call Entrepreneuritis. Its symptoms include:
- Needing to raise money for your venture because you have little to none of your own.
- Feeling bitter because of the assumption that nobody believes in you.
- Worrying about what unimportant people (read: those you aren't trying to serve) think and say.
- Discomfort recruiting others to join your venture because you know deep down inside that you probably don't have the resources to execute.
Those suffering from any of these symptoms needn't ask a doctor about a prescription drug. There's a cure for Entrepreneuritis. It's called 'being realistic'.
That might sound pessimistic, but the truth of the matter is that despite the stereotypes Silicon Valley has created, most new businesses are not started teenage wunderkinds, 20-somethings with lots of ideas and little domain expertise, and founders who have a negative net worth.
Can these folks succeed against the odds? Sure, but you could win big in Vegas betting everything you own on red too.
At the end of the day, the real problem with Entrepreneuritis is that it creates the false impression that you have to start a company to get in on the action in today's market. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.
As Maxim founder Felix Dennis has pointed out, you don't have to start your own business to be successful. To the contrary, "If you never have a single great idea in your life, but become skilled in executing the great ideas of others, you can succeed beyond your wildest dreams" he writes in his book, The Narrow Road: A Brief Guide to the Getting of Money.
At a time when technology is rapidly evolving, and forcing meaningful transformations in industries ranging from publishing to marketing, some of the finest opportunities to build valuable skills, a rewarding career, and financial comfort do not require that you beg for funding, sleep on the floor of an office you're paying for with a credit card or lie awake at night worrying.
There are many ways to participate in the digital revolution, and the best aren't the sexiest. In other words, you don't have to start a company to finish a winner.