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Are you an entrepreneur? If you're working on a product for a new business, have built a successful iPhone app, or are trying to raise money from family and friends to realize a new idea, you might shrug your shoulders and say, "Yeah, I guess I am."

Jolie O'Dell, a blogger for Mashable, however, has some bad news: she is "officially taking the word 'entrepreneur' away from you."

Thanks to Hacker News, I came across a post on her personal blog written in October, in which O'Dell explained:

Over the past few years, more than a few of you have irresponsibly commandeered the term “entrepreneur” and used it in wholly inappropriate situations. It’s as though you’re afraid to say something simple, such as “I’m working on an idea,” or “I’ve got a side project,” instead announcing to the world, “I’m an entrepreneur!”

Despite the fact that O'Dell's post is a few months old, I felt compelled to respond given how incredulous it is. In trying to define who is and who isn't an 'entrepreneur', for instance, O'Dell writes:

If you have no capital, no employees, and no product, but you DO have another job working for someone else (or if you’re a full-time college student), you’re not an entrepreneur.

Yet in another breath, she writes:

I’ve worked for entrepreneurs quite a bit over the past 12 years. They’re hustlers, jugglers, madmen, egomaniacs, people who desperately attempt to build empires on little money and less time.

It's quite a contradiction: if you have no capital and you're busy working for someone else during the day, you're not an entrepreneur. But curiously the 'entrepreneurs' O'Dell has worked for apparently have a shortage of capital and time too.

Even more contradictory and curious are the detailed criteria O'Dell creates for distinguishing entrepreneurs from those pretending to be entrepreneurs. For instance, she considers that if "You have a staff", you might just be an entrepreneur. But entrepreneurs are supposedly "ultimately solely responsible for the success or failure" of their ventures too. As anyone who has employed others knows: even if the buck stops with you, your employees play a huge role in your success or failure, which is incidentally why most successful entrepreneurs are not "jugglers", "madmen" or "egomaniacs."

O'Dell also considers that if "you’re actively trying to get money from customers/angles/VCs [sic]", you are probably in the 'entrepreneur' camp, but if you're just "looking for funding", you're not. Given that the vast majority of 'entrepreneurs' who pitch Silicon Valley angels and VCs are rejected, one has to ask: how is pitching angels and VCs in Silicon Valley anything other than "looking for funding"?

One questionable, if not contradictory, criterion: that you have a business plan -- "with honest-to-god numbers on it." While there's virtue in writing a business plan, the value in a business plan comes from the organization of thoughts and the creation of an execution guidebook; most experienced entrepreneurs and investors will tell you that the numbers in business plan's are typically worth the paper they're written on.

But I digress. By O'Dell's criteria, there are plenty of business owners -- from sole proprietors who earn hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to many of today's most prominent self-made billionaires -- who might have at one point or another been scolded if they ever dared consider themselves 'entrepreneurs' when they were building their businesses.

Which proves one thing: determining who is an entrepreneur and who isn't is harder than it looks. Fortunately, we don't need to. That's because 'entrepreneur' is a title. Nothing more, nothing less. While one might be able to appreciate that in places like Silicon Valley, it can be tiring to find yourself sitting at the bar talking to yet another 'entrepreneur', 'CEO' or 'founder', the truth of the matter is that there's little value in trying to judge or 'validate' someone else's title. If I decided to call myself Patricio Robles, Prince of Narnia, would it really matter to you? I hope not.

Instead of focusing on titles, it's far healthier to recognize what the internet has done: given motivated individuals around the world a medium through which they have the potential to turn ideas and passions into profit, become more self-sufficient and, in some instances, build booming enterprises that employ others and generate great wealth. From the college student who is building iPhone apps to the hobbyist craftsmaker who supplements his or her family's income by selling on Etsy to the affiliate marketer who earns millions annually, there are a lot of people out there whose lives wouldn't be the same without the opportunities the internet helped create.

Those who are truly concerned with and inspired by 'entrepreneurship' can appreciate the many forms it takes, and celebrate the fact that when people have the liberty to pursue their own endeavors, individuals, economies and societies are better off for it. Entrepreneurship is not an exclusive club or a membership-only organization, so to all of Jolie O'Dell's 'non-trepreneurs': keep doing what you're doing.

It's not the critic who counts. As most entrepreneurs inevitably learn: your biggest critics are rarely other entrepreneurs. After all, your fellow entrepreneurs are far more interested in building products and services that help people than they are in trying to tear you down because you give yourself a particular title.

Patricio Robles

Published 6 December, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2379 more posts from this author

Comments (2)

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Nicole Krug

Nice article, and I'm happy to call you the Prince of Narnia, I'd actually love to be the Little Mermaid.

While I do think entrepreneur has become a bit of an overused term, it is also a catch all. Your point is valid, the title doesn't matter, it's your performance and generally those that spend their time picking things apart are better left behind.

over 5 years ago

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Ken Liu

Lord "Yer Fired!" Sugar said it best. Let others call you an entrepreneur, when you work for yourself concentrate on building your business, adding value and getting going

over 5 years ago

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