What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
It seems over the past decade the application of the awe-inspiring tag of “entrepreneur” has been cornered by those building businesses in the “high tech” fields. Let’s set aside for a moment the notion that some of us use “low” tech to build businesses while others use “higher” (?) technologies. I’ll write more on that later. First, I want to wrangle with the definition of entrepreneurship.
If you read the academic literature on entrepreneurship (and I have–ad nauseum), you will most frequently, albeit not exclusively, run across the definition provided above. Let’s unpack it.
THE PURSUIT. Not the success. Nothing about profit or management or markets. A pursuit. An endeavor. An attempt. A striving for. This notion of pursuing that which lies out in the distance, just beyond our grasp, pulls an evolutionary trigger buried deep in the amygdala: to survive you must capture your prey through a determined pursuit, one that requires you to go beyond the limits of what you think you can do. This connection to the amygdala is real: different brains respond to perceived shifts in the environment differently. A bull elk appearing across the meadow, (or, say, an Internet connecting everyone on the planet) could conjure “fear” or alternatively, “food”, in different minds.
THE OPPORTUNITY. Again, nothing about markets or money, not a mention of technology or “lean startups”. Just a recognition of a shift, an opening, a chance that wasn’t there before – or that no one else noticed. An opportunity to settle new lands out West, or buy up domain names on the web. Move fast, move smart, move slow and stealthy. Whichever way you do it – MOVE! Even if when you get started you can’t quite see how it will work out. You don’t have millions of dollars, you don’t have the necessary “resources” under your control. Yet.
WITHOUT RESOURCES. But, you are not alone. The idea that entrepreneurs are solo actors was dispelled over a decade ago. Entrepreneurs are teams. It might be a husband/wife team, or two or three friends from grad school. You might be building the business alone – but you are getting help. From neighbors, and friends, and cousins. Because the resources you need likely range from a great social media artist, to a free printer, to a fast wifi connection, to a genius coder, to cheap child care. And, yes, at some point, you likely need some actual money so you can build out your prototype and maybe even hire some team members. But, at the moment, your greatest resource is your web of social relationships and people who want to help you succeed. Here’s an excerpt from my dissertation in which I explored the strategies entrepreneurs use to aggregate resources through their social connections.
“Of course, entrepreneurs are not isolated, operating entirely without resources; they operate in a web of relationships. They are networked. And they are founded and led by intrepid entrepreneurs, individuals who pursue these opportunities to create change despite a lack of resources (Shaw & Carter, 2007; Byers, 2010)”.
UNDER CONTROL. You have very little control. In fact, the lack of control is what makes it easy for you to move fast and in new directions. You don’t need permission. Your boss isn’t going to yell at you for not doing that thing that no one cares about. Control is all about management. Think about what’s different for an entrepreneur. You don’t have a budget that you must carefully apply to solve a known set of problems. You don’t have a cadre of people working for you, waiting to be told what to do. You have a bull elk, positioned across a meadow, and a couple of friends willing to go in on the hunt with you for a chance at a good meal. So, use leverage, and promises of future gains, and pick the right people for the right job. And do only that which you really must do.
And maybe, despite not having any resources under your control, you’ll be able to have elk burgers for dinner. Or you’ll be on the front page of Fast Company Magazine. Or you’ll work for yourself in a small art studio and love your job. Whatever the outcome, burgers or no, if you gave it your best shot, you pursued your dream, you ARE an entrepreneur. In my book.
What about in yours?