Silicon Valley has Hijacked the Term 'Entrepreneurship'
I was talking to a friend of mine the other day and I asked him a question.
"When I say the word 'entrepreneur' what comes to mind?"
I can't say that I was surprised by his response.
"Mark Zuckerberg. Uber. Google. Silicon Valley."
We went on to have a conversation about what it means to be a successful entrepreneur and I instantly began to see a pattern in his thinking; venture capital, millions of dollars, hundreds of employees, everyone gets extremely rich, etc.
We started honing in on the definition of success in general and I asked him another question.
"If you could solve a probelm, be your own boss, create something you loved doing, create a few jobs, and make enough money doing it to take care of your family with some left over to do what you want, wouldn't you consider that successful?"
I could practically hear the wheels turning in his head.
"Well, yeah. Absolutely."
I have had conversations like this time and time again over the last several years and the outcome is always the same. So why, then, if everyone I talk to considers a smaller "lifestyle" business to be a success, do they also associate mega companies like Facebook, Google, and Uber with the term "entrepreneurship?"
There are 28 million businesses in America and, according to Bloomberg, the number of large, publicly traded companies in 2015 was only 3,700, or one in 7,568. To put this into perspective, the NCAA reports that, of all the kids playing high school football, one in 4,287 are drafted to the NFL. In other words, the odds of making it to the NFL are almost double that of becoming a publicly traded company in the U.S.
Ever since the industrial revolution America has valued the big company. And why wouldn't we? They create more jobs and pay more taxes. These are good things. The issue is that when this started becoming the new norm, people also stopped paying attention to the craftsman. Additionally, the tech boom made large, scalable companies sexy and desirable.. Out came the venture capitalists and angel investors and if a company isn't scalable with an exit strategy and a 10X return, it "isn't a viable business model." Now, don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with these amazing, large companies. I don't know many people who haven't played the how-would-it-be game when hearing the stories of Mark Zuckerberg or Travis Kalanick. However, it's as if a Wall Street mindset of making money hand over fist has completely taken over and we have created an American business culture than has forgetten about the little guy.
The fact is, as shown in this lovely infographic, over 50% of the working population in America still works in small business and small businesses have generated 65% of the net new jobs since 1995. These are the people who get up every day, contribute to their community, and provide a product or service for the people around them. They may not all be poised for a seven, eight, or nine figure acquisition, but they are creating a handful of jobs for their family, friends and neighbors. They're putting food on their table, a roof over their heads, and providing for their family by doing something they love.
One of my favorite quotes from our tour across the country interviewing 100 entrepreneurs in 100 cities is from Steve Sullivan, founder of Stio. An outdoor apparel company.
"I would have loved to have come up with twitter, God, you know, who wouldn't? But I don't know anything about that so I'm doing what I know how to do and that's make clothes for people who enjoy the outdoors."
And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.