I Want To Be An Entrepreneur… When I Grow Up?
Updated: Jan 3
Merriam Dictionary defines an entrepreneur as “one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise”. To put in a simpler form, “a person who starts a business and is willing to risk loss in order to make money” (which can go in either direction on the money thing).
Over the years I have met a lot of entrepreneurs (this is one of those words in German, that the English word is commonly used and known or is referred to as unternehmer). I remember several years ago after my son graduated from high school, he and I were on a college visitation weekend in Ithaca, New York. Tyler was being recruited by Cornell University to attend school and play football there. We were on the visitation to see if the school was a fit for him (it was a fit for him from an educational standpoint, but it was not a fit for Papa’s wallet. As I come to learn that Ivy League colleges do not offer scholarships for athletics – yep that’s right – come and play football every Saturday in the fall (perhaps risking severe injury) in front of thousands of people who purchased tickets and your reward is that you can attend Cornell….hmmm).
Sorry back to the story. While we were on this visit, Tyler and I had the opportunity to meet and have dinner with a very successful entrepreneur. This man had amassed a fortune in the development and leasing of campus housing and apartments in college towns throughout the USA. Tyler was still in the process of determining his college and career path. Of course, Tyler’s Papa was pushing hard for a career in medicine.
Tyler explained to this gentleman that he had always been intrigued at the notion of coming up with a unique concept and starting his own business. I respected this idea and admittedly was a bit jealous, as this had been one of my dreams before life and responsibility woke me up from dreamland.
As Tyler was discussing his plans for his education and his thoughts on what career path he may take, he asked this man one question of which the answer has stuck with me even until this day. Tyler asked, “what does it take to be an entrepreneur”. The man quickly replied, “an entrepreneur must be willing to risk everything and be willing to lose it all in exchange for success and working for yourself”. He further explained that on several occasions, he had lost it all (and he was not talking about thousands of dollars, he was talking about millions). Tyler then asked why did you keep doing it. The man replied, that he was able to accept his failures and learn from them and it was what he was, an entrepreneur. The words willing to risk everything and willing to lose it all, were forever etched in mind.
Tyler did finalize his plans. He did not go to Cornell, he went to another high-ranking U.S. college and played football there. Instead of perusing an education in business or entrepreneurship, Tyler studied neuroscience and possibly a few unrelated educational things while in college. Today he is the Director of Research at a neurological research firm in New York City. (yes, I am proud)
The issue that Tyler faced is the same as mine and his grandfather (Pops). We all seemingly took the path of doing the right thing or the expected thing. Notice I did not say we took the safe path. In any job or career, I believe there is no safe path. There might be a more secure path, that comes with less personal risk, but as I explained in a previous blog post on the topic of job security https://www.viewfrommywindow.net/home/the-work-series-part-two, as employees the overall success and life of a business is completely out of our control. We are a part of a system or machine, that we contribute to, but there is never any guarantee of security.
I actually gave the entrepreneur thing a try just after high school. I bought a carpet cleaning company from my neighbor, it actually was a good business. The business still exists to this day in my hometown. I sold it after some time so I could go to college and focus on a “real job”. I suppose I have had a hundred business ideas along the way and have watched others build a successful business on similar ideas I have had. The difference is they executed on their idea.
Over the years, my Father also would often talk about a company or a business that was for sale, that he thought he should buy, but never did. Also, since the time Tyler graduated college, he also has engaged on a couple of projects to scratch his entrepreneurial itch. I am sure many of you reading this blog, can relate to what I am talking about or have had similar experiences. In America, we sometimes say, “could of, should of, would of”. For my German friends, this simply means; I could have done it, I should I have done it, or I wish I would have done it.
In the town that I live in, many of my close friends are entrepreneurs. One is an architect (which in Germany is not always just design services, but is the entire project management of a new construction or renovation), another friend owns (5) companies related to IT and development services, I also know a couple of people who own bars or restaurants. The downtown area I live in is made up of many locally owned shops, I have become acquainted with some of the shop owners of various types of businesses. Many of these entrepreneurs that I know are quite successful and some of them have also shared the stories of their dark days in business, the times they lost it all or were living from week to week.
One thing I have noticed about my entrepreneur friends is that even though they may be living the entrepreneurial dream, they all work hard (very hard), long hours, weekends, late nights. This seemingly comes with the territory. My point is that I am sure most successful entrepreneurs may be working harder than a lot of us who are “working for the man” (this is an American slang phrase = "The Man" refers to the government or a big company or any business in which you are an employee). I am sure many of my entrepreneur friends have had their share of days in which they wished they were “working for the man”.
The type of entrepreneurs that really intrigue me are the ones that have a business related to their passion. Perhaps their passion for food, wine, music, fashion or a craft. I can pretty much assure you that these types of entrepreneurs are not getting rich, but in exchange for big money, they are getting to touch their passion every day.
I was prompted to write this blog, as I was recently thinking about my career and my life. I work in a business that is very vulnerable to economic impacts and is an industry that is often subject to acquisitions and mergers. All factors that are completely out of my control, that potentially come with personal ramifications (German = Folgen). For over 25 years I have “worked for the man” and on any day, I could find myself in a situation where someone else’s decision could turn my life upside down.
I am the Manager of European Business Development, NOT………I am a salesman. I was thinking, that as a salesman, I possibly share many of the traits, the risks/reward factors of an entrepreneur. As a salesman there is a risk to your earnings; if you don’t close sales, you don’t make a commission. I also place my success on the quality of a product developed by people who have not talked to a consumer in years, with the hope the product functions and provides enough value that someone will actually buy it. Daily I am relying on my professional skills to negotiate deals with customers to closure. My long-term job security is solely based on the revenue I generate for the company (what have you done for me lately). I have said before, “a salesman is basically self-employed with the exception that a company is willing to invest in them, in exchange for a set of skills required to take their product to the marketplace”.
Why didn’t I do become an entrepreneur? My answer is the same as it is for most of us. I was too afraid to take the risk and particularly in my case, life and all its responsibilities were just too much. A family to care for, a big mortgage, car payments, raising my own children and 3 other children, whose fathers walked away from their obligations, how could I ever put my ability to assume these responsibilities at risk. The answer is I didn’t. Just the same as many of you who may have had an entrepreneurial dream, we exchanged this dream for the notion of security in the form of a weekly paycheck, health insurance, and paid vacations.
I still want to be an entrepreneur…when I grow up! Owning my own business is definitely on my bucket-list (a slang phrase for a list of things to do before you die) and well I am not sure when or if I’ll ever grow up. I am not sure what my business might be, but I do have a pretty simple strategy. I would not want to do anything related to the profession I have been doing for over 25 years. I would hope to make enough money to live a nice life and it would be a bonus if it was doing something I enjoy. Perhaps that day will come or something happens to prompt me to make this change or I just get the guts to go for it.