I recall the story of a professor of entrepreneurship at a prestigious university who would come into his class on the first day of the semester and say, “Many of you have signed up to take this class to find out if you might be an entrepreneur. Let me save us all a lot of time and energy by telling you straight up, you’re not an entrepreneur. If you were, you wouldn’t be here. You’d be out starting another business somewhere.”
That’s pretty harsh. No two ways about it. But, depending on how you define entrepreneur, he might just be right. In this piece we’re going to look at entrepreneurship and in its various forms and help you decide if you’re an entrepreneur. And if so, what type of entrepreneur you are.
This is the flaming, red-blooded, over-the-top, out of control, dyed in the wool, true blue, through and through entrepreneur. This type of entrepreneur has likely never had a traditional job (the type of job where you work in a company you don’t own.) Oh, they may have worked for someone one time for a short period until they figured out it wasn’t for them.
This type of entrepreneur shows their true colors early in life. In grade school, you’ll see them out on the sidewalk with a lemonade stand. By their teenage years they have graduated to window cleaning, snow removal and lawn care. They’ve usually started at least one serious business by the end of high school.
They typically finance their businesses by hook or by crook, and they are almost always several thousand dollars short of what they’d really like to do. But despite the chronic cash shortfall, by their mid to late 30’s they are often amassing some serious wealth.
Personality wise, these entrepreneurs are driven to create. I’m not sure whether it’s a propensity for ADHD they share, or if it’s just a short attention span, but these entrepreneurs are constantly on the lookout for the next great idea and constantly giving it a try. I suppose it’s like everything else. You stand at the plate and take enough swings of the bat, you’re eventually going to hit a home run. That probably explains the wealth of these entrepreneurs. They’re constantly swinging and they always swing for the fence. The law of averages is their friend.
MBA entrepreneurs are people whose dream was always to own their own business, but they lack the confidence (some would say recklessness) of their orthodox peers. They prefer to learn in college instead of in the school of hard knocks. As near as I can tell, the education is about the same.
MBA entrepreneurs are typically somewhat older than their orthodox peers. While the orthodox entrepreneur is building businesses during – and immediately after – high school, the MBA entrepreneur has four years of undergraduate studies, five years of hard business experience, and two more years of MBA studies. No matter which way you slice it, MBA entrepreneurs aren’t likely to really get going on their own businesses until their late twenties or early thirties. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just a point of difference between the two.
MBA entrepreneurs are less likely to bootstrap their businesses and more likely to work on the OPM (other people’s money) model. Because they are typically starting with more money, their businesses are often much larger from day one. The OPM model attests to the fact that MBA entrepreneurs have to develop at least one skill their orthodox friends don’t: the ability to raise money.
Because of their education, and the propensity to start larger businesses, MBA entrepreneurs are likely to start fewer large businesses while their orthodox colleagues are more likely to start more businesses that are often smaller. There are exceptions on both sides, of course, but that seems to be the rule of thumb.
Personality wise MBA entrepreneurs are generally more calculating in the things they do. They seem to have somewhat less appetite for risk than the orthodox entrepreneurs, but in terms of success they do as well their counterparts (albeit in a different way.) Where the orthodox entrepreneur just keeps swinging for the fence (some would say, indiscriminately swinging) the MBA entrepreneur is more likely to wait for just the right pitch and then turn on it.
Senior Citizen Entrepreneurs
What I call senior citizen entrepreneurs are those who have gone through their careers and find themselves unemployed. In some cases they lost their jobs through downsizing or an unwillingness to stay with a long-time employer. In other cases, they worked to 65 or thereabouts and “retired.” I put retired in quotes because many of them don’t work for someone anymore, but they aren’t ready for the front porch or the rocking chair.
Like their orthodox peers, senior citizen entrepreneurs are most likely to fund their new business venture out of their retirement savings. They think, “Why should I bet my retirement on a CEO I’ve never met (in a company I’ve never even visited) by putting my money in the stock market, when I could bet on me? I’ve spent my whole career making money for someone else. It’s time I did the same for me.”
These businesses are generally smaller (at least to begin with) but can often grow to be very lucrative. Most senior citizen entrepreneurs have an entire career of experience and they are just risk-averse enough to not take any unnecessary risks. For that reason, they are seldom wildly successful. But on the other hand, they are not nearly as likely to fail as many other entrepreneurs.
Personality wise, these senior citizen entrepreneurs don’t particularly have any defining characteristics. They are just ordinary people doing extraordinary things. If there is one thing they have in common, it’s the smile on their faces from doing what they love…… finally. The question they all seem to be asking themselves is, “Why did I take so long to start?”
So you might be asking yourself, “Yes, but which are the real entrepreneurs?” The answer is all of them. Anyone with the courage to take the plunge and try their own business is “the real” entrepreneur. You might also wonder which is more likely to succeed? The answer is the same – all of them are equally likely to succeed. They will just be successful in different ways and for different reasons.
The truth is, most entrepreneurs are hybrids of the three above types. But there are enough of each of the above types to separate them out. Entrepreneurship is a glorious thing. Although this look at entrepreneurship has strived to look at the differences, entrepreneurs actually share many similar characteristics.
So what about the professor from above who told the whole class they weren’t really entrepreneurs because they weren’t out building businesses instead of sitting in the classroom? My response would be, “If the students aren’t entrepreneurs because they are sitting the classroom, what does that say about the professor?”