What Is an Entrepreneur?
An entrepreneur is someone who organizes, operates, and assumes the risk of a business venture. Add to that “in return for profits,” and you have a fairly common description of the term. Some would also add “using good judgment” to that definition, particularly in situations where reliable data and previous experience don't exist, situations all too common for the entrepreneur.
Even if you can't define entrepreneur, you know one when you see one. Any schoolchild can rattle off the names of some famous ones: Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Martha Stewart, and Jenny Craig, to name a few. If you don't know the names of others, you surely know their enterprises: Howard Schultz of Starbucks, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Ray Kroc of McDonald's, Chester Carlson of Xerox, and Anita Roddick of The Body Shop. Entrepreneurs are particularly esteemed in the United States because of their perceived adventurous outlook, drive, and individualism. These qualities mirror the way the country likes to see itself. After all, America was founded by entrepreneurial types who risked life and limb for the promise of untold riches on an uncharted continent. Any culture that values and rewards the self-made man or woman will encourage entrepreneurship. In 2004, Treasury Secretary John Snow acknowledged another key aspect of entrepreneurship when he said, “We've got to let people fail, and [not] make failure a lifelong stigma.” He went on to recognize the value of these unique people to the economy: “We need to keep the entrepreneurs and the spirit of [entrepreneurship] strong.”
Who Wants to Be an Entrepreneur?
Lots of people, apparently. In the 1980s, becoming an entrepreneur was looked upon as slightly unusual. Only a tiny percentage of graduating MBAs considered it. At that time, entrepreneurs enjoyed something of a cult status. You no doubt have heard of those renegades Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. By 2000, the idea of going into business for oneself had become almost de rigueur. That year, a Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership survey found that 65 percent of fourteen-to nineteen-year-olds expressed an interest in starting their own businesses. In 2001, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures showed that about 6.5 percent of the U.S. workforce identified themselves as independent contractors. An increasing number of those self-employed entrepreneurs are women. In 2003, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao said, “Women-owned businesses are growing at twice the rate of all U.S. firms….From 1997 to 2000, women-owned businesses with $1 million or more in revenue grew 31 percent, while their male-owned counterparts grew by just 19 percent.”
Who Will Become an Entrepreneur?
Remember the “Peter Principle”? Lawrence Peter maintained that workers get promoted until they reach the level of their incompetence. That might be one reason to leave an organization and strike out on your own. Daniel H. Pink, author of Free Agent Nation, gives another: the “Peter-Out Principle,” which says that workers will rise through the ranks until they reach that level where they stop having fun. Do you prefer doing the work to managing others who do it? Then you might be a good candidate for entrepreneurship.
Any number of entrepreneurs can't be too many for some people. Peter Jones, a self-described “serial entrepreneur” and proprietor of Dragon's Den on the BBC, considers entrepreneurs the equivalent of rock stars and says, “I've always liked the idea of creating a nation of entrepreneurs.” The United States seems to be well on its way. Perhaps you'll be one of them.