The Accidental Entrepreneur
December 13, 2006
I was flattered to be featured on Ramit Sethi’s popular personal finance blog, IWillTeachYouToBeRich.com, as a Friday Entrepreneur… but I feel like I should confess that in my own mind, the whole entrepreneur thing is sort of a wild series of unlikely coincidences leading up to a totally unpredictable result which could still go horribly askew. Three years ago, I would have reacted to the idea of being an entrepreneur with horror or amusement: my dad is a lifelong entrepreneur, I’ve worked for a series of notorious entrepreneurs, I know very well what that life is all about, and at many levels (as many of them will admit) it’s quite irrational.
All of the associations people have with the term “entrepreneur” seem inapplicable to me, except possibly a certain innate lack of ability to fit into organizations of any size. To me, an entrepreneur — particularly a serial entrepreneur — is a very specific type of person, a type that is so common around here that you couldn’t throw a scone in any Starbuck’s within 10 miles of University Avenue without hitting one. He is a youngish male, white or Asian, a graduate of one of the more prestigious universities but generally only at the level of a bachelor’s or at most an MBA. He believes at the deepest core of his being that it is his destiny to be the CEO of a series of companies. He’s probably never really asked himself why it’s his destiny — but if he had, he would be forced to humbly admit that it’s because of his superior leadership ability. He loves the thrill of the hustle, the long days and nights of what other people would consider stressful labor or insane obsession. And here is the key point: he doesn’t need a great idea of his own to get in the game. He doesn’t need to ante up. If he happens to run across a great idea, awesome; if not, he’ll go with a good idea — or failing that, a mediocre idea.
I am the other kind of founder, the non-serial or accidental entrepreneur. Like Quentin Tarantino using the script of Reservoir Dogs to become a director, I am only in the game because I happened to produce a chip — a demo of a fully-realized product. Without that I would be a fat, happy team lead somewhere. I feel like I exist as an entrepreneur solely to serve a particular idea that I happen to have been struck with. It’s not even something I _want_ to do per se — as Naval Ravikant pointed out at 106 Miles last month, I could make a very nice living without founding a company — it’s more like I feel an obligation to others and to the idea itself.
Sorry to puncture the whole romance of the founder thing… but I thought I should keep it real…