Over the last couple of years, I have been active on the entrepreneurship scene in London and Birmingham, attending various networking events and workshops (there are plenty of those around). Although I have met with many incredibly bright and talented people, I have also noticed a worrying pattern. Many ‘entrepreneurs’, it seems, are more interested in titles than in actually doing something or making a difference.
After introducing myself at these events, the typical spills I hear include:
“I am an entrepreneur. I have started this website to help small business with SEO”
“I am the founder of blah blah. We are developing a new platform that will become the Uber of ---”
“I am running webinars and seminars that will teach clients how to create wealth”
“I’m the CEO of blah blah… we build websites for small business”
“I am the Director of blah blah, we develop apps for blah blah”
Clearly, there is a pattern here. Let’s forget for a moment that everyone is an entrepreneur, Director, CEO, Founder, etc. Let’s focus on what our enthusiastic entrepreneurs are offering and what drives them. Money, of course, is by far the biggest driver. And it’s not wrong to want money. No one should feel guilty for wanting to make a lot of money. But what worries me, from the conversations and interactions I have had with many entrepreneurs, is that their definition of money, the target, the bar is set at Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Jack Ma - level. Most entrepreneurs I meet are driven by the anecdotes of a few hundred founders/entrepreneurs who struck gold and built billion-dollar tech empires. That is the dream and that is the goal. In my book, Challenge and Improve, I talk about how today more than ever, we are all made to believe that we can really be like these lucky wildly successful individuals. They dress like us, they talk like us, they talk to us through social media, they are like ‘friends’ to us. Their stories do not seem like one-off anecdotes, far from it. They are real. They are our stories.
Except, they are not
Yes, you may know hundreds of tech entrepreneurs that hit the jackpot and became billionaires in their 20s, but doing so, or repeating that feat is as unlikely as winning a state lottery. The odds are not far apart. Yet, it does not feel that way. The social media age makes us feel like their level of success is attainable, within our grasp, only if we can build the right platform and get the backing of the right angel investors. Technology allows us to feel much closer to such worldly success than we truly are, it allows us to build websites, apps, and to register companies in minutes and with lunch money. If I wake up feeling motivated enough, I could go from average wage earner to a director of an actual registered company with a logo and a functional website before dinner. And the next day, my business cards will arrive and boom – I have arrived! I am a founder! It says so on my card. I own a company and I am the Director! It says so on the Companies House website. I am an entrepreneur! Of course I am, I may not be making money yet but many start-ups didn’t make money for years, decades even.
Except, you are not.
I was trapped in that mentality and cycle for a long time. So, I speak from experience. I thought I was a lot of things and I invested most of my time in ‘seeming’ like I was those things. I said I was a writer although I had only a few word docs and ideas of books I was writing on my laptop. But before I even finished writing a single book, I was a writer. It said so on my business card and my blog and my Twitter.
Except, I was not
And that is the trap that millions of people find themselves in. Everyone is an entrepreneur, developing an ever slightly different version of another entrepreneur’s game, app, website, platform. Everyone has the same dream and is trying to walk through the same narrow path. But the path is crowded, there is no room to breathe. Sooner or later we’ll all run out of breathing space and we’ll stampede on each other to death. We are all crowding to eat the same pie and very few people are trying to bake more pies or grow that one pie. We all want to be tech entrepreneurs. We believe our platforms will grow to a billion users and we will live happily ever after.
Except, we wont
Entrepreneurship is not about wanting and claiming glory and riches. It’s not about titles. It should be about doing things, having something to offer, making a difference. The most important thing is identifying the problem you are trying to solve or the value you want to add. If it’s something you truly believe in, you should invest heavily in the venture. Invest money, time, and expertise, whatever you have. And be patient. It is unlikely that you will succeed overnight. Even those entrepreneurs you adore did not make it overnight. It may seem as if they did, especially in an autobiography where success can happen by simply turning the page or the chapter. In real life, though, you can’t simply turn the page to the next chapter. You have to trudge through the long, slow, gruelling, disheartening, and often treacherous journey of building a real business.
I don’t mean to disparage or discourage aspiring entrepreneurs; I only want to help. So, next time someone asks you what you do (at a networking event) tell them about the problem you are trying to solve. Tell them you want to fix the problem of homelessness in your city, that you want to fix the challenge of student accommodation in your town, that you want to make it easy for people to read menus in restaurants in foreign languages when they travel abroad. Only mention your platform, your website or your app when asked how you intend to solve the problem. And, for the love of God, please don’t say I am a Founder or CEO or Director’. Just don’t. Very few people care. Besides, a title doesn’t do anything. You do.