Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Hype of Entrepreneurship

 View on the way to work on a Monday morning. Stadshagen Metro Station, Stockholm.

"The entrepreneur is willing to put his or her career and financial security on the line and take risks in the name of an idea, spending time as well as capital on an uncertain venture." - Frank H. Knight (1921) and Peter Drucker (1970)

Don't get me wrong. I admire the entrepreneur as much as any MBA grad who thought about that word more than his girlfriend during business school. It is just that my reasons for looking up to entrepreneurship are different than the layman reasons thrown around at start-up conferences, leadership seminars and networking dinners. Just like any other profession or genre of work, there are successful entrepreneurs and not-so-successful entrepreneurs. Should I give any special consideration to the not-so-successful entrepreneur, more than I would give to a not-so-successful management consultant? Probably yes, because the entrepreneur, successful or not, has put more on the line than the average salaried employee, and if unsuccessful has lost more than a guy with a job. But while we are doing comparisons, should I take away anything from a successful doctor, lawyer or corporate manager and hold the unsuccessful entrepreneur over and above him? Certainly not. After all, success, in any shape or form always tastes sweeter than failure. 

The thing that irritates me most is the clichéd reasons thrown around why entrepreneurship is so awesome. The most common ones are "Entrepreneurs are their own boss, they keep their own hours and they are answerable to no one, they are independent". Really? Are those your topmost reasons for the awesomeness of entrepreneurship? Firstly, entrepreneurs are answerable to a lot of people, their investors, if any, their clients, their partners, and most of all, their employees. They are more answerable for their actions and decisions than the normal "employee" at a firm and managing so many stakeholders is perhaps what makes entrepreneurship so interesting. I could never really understand the attraction of flexible hours, even though I have had it throughout my career. I mean I get it, you get to go for a movie on Monday at 11 am. But let's admit it, if there is a breakfast meeting with an important prospective client on Sunday at 8 am, it does not matter if you are an entrepreneur or business unit head, you will make that meeting. Most people who are good at what they do and reach a certain level in their jobs do not have to swipe their card at 9 am, unless they want to be in that position. A successful graphic designer is never asked how many hours s/he works. Or a successful lawyer who works in a law firm, or a top doctor employed by a hospital. And independence? Well if the entrepreneur has investors, I am not sure if s/he is more independent than a guy who heads a big business unit with a large budget, if you are using someones money, be sure they are keeping tabs on you. And if s/he does not have investors, then isn't s/he so limited by the small(er) investment that s/he has made himself or herself? 

There are so many better reasons why entrepreneurship is awesome. What about the ideas one can play around with? What about the pride? What about the euphoria of pursuing one's dream? What about the ability to tweak most aspects of your business, from HR, to Finance to Legal? For me those matter much more than the "I am my own boss" and "I keep my own hours" and "I am independent".

Which brings me to my other point. Risk doesn't excite me beyond a point. I am the kind of gambler who would go to a casino but not gamble away the taxi fare I need to get back home. So what if one could have the best of both worlds? Keep the risk limited and still have the euphoria of shaping a business?

In a world that is flooded with too many euphemisms and jargon, I am always careful of flinging out another one. But this word has always excited me. Intrapreneurship. What if someone gave you the ability to implement your ideas, own what you create, decide and implement your own strategies, take all major decisions (to the extent one cannot go bankrupt) and call all the shots? And ok, also throw in flexible hours, hiring your own team and choosing which client you want to spend most time on and where and when to travel. Oh and did I forget to state, no upfront investment, someone to pay for your travels, the salaries of your employees, client dinners, and any other investment you decide to make. And you still keep a % of the profits you make. And if the business fails, you lose nothing. Sounds unreal isn't it? But this is the profession I chose for myself, and a lot of my friends chose as well. Of course, there is a boss. Who meets you once a quarter, if not lesser. You are answerable, mostly to your clients. And if you mess up, you do not lose all your savings and your life, just your job. And considering your reputation, experience and CV value, there are always 3-4 other jobs waiting for you. Hence limited risks, but you still get to create your own business and your own strategies, build your team, own the profit and loss accounts. And only the successful get there. You do not become a business unit head without proving your mettle first, hence there are no random unsuccessful intrapreneurs.

So next time you are at a networking dinner, and that guy sitting next to you tries to tell you his claim to fame is entrepreneurship, stop and think. Yes, it was a risky plunge. Yes, he is brave. Yes, he is ambitious. But before you genuflect, dare to ask him, is he successful? Because that is what you would ask the consultant, the athletes, the creative designer, the lawyer before you put him on a pedestal. 

Life is not always about leading. It is also about making the right decision about who you choose to follow. Watch the video, and you will understand!

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