This past semester, I have been enrolled in a class called “Entrepreneur Lecture Series.” “Successful” entrepreneurs would come give presentations on their journey; lessons; and, well, “success.” Though I own my own business and have just been bought out of another business, I don’t think of myself as an entrepreneur. And here’s why:
The only theme so consistently emphasized in these series of lectures was that of personal sacrifice. Apparently, in order to be a true entrepreneur, you have to be willing to bet the farm while working 70 hour weeks. Not many lecturers even made the attempt at saying “be careful” or “be responsible.” In fact, each entrepreneur gave his/her own version of the and-when-we-thought-we-could-get-no-lower-we-borrowed-against-our-house story.
The main issue I have here is that of glamorizing that which rarely happens. Only “successful” entrepreneurs were chosen to address the students, obviously. It only takes a Google search to realize that more than 85 percent of small businesses can’t make it past five years. But we ignore that and discuss how Bill Gates started at the bottom and is now the richest man in the world with his 40 billion or so. This is akin to the faulty statistic that the stock market has had an average annual return of 12 percent since inception. Yeah, again, this may be correct only when ignoring all the companies that have failed and all the grossly huge negative returns which have been hedged by bankruptcy over the years (but for the record, I still think diversified investments are a good idea even if misrepresented).
But alas, it is still a dilemma lest I make it sound so one-sided. Even with the 85 percent failure rate, our economy thrives off of small businesses. Being entrepreneurial is a good thing. But is the need to bet the farm a trade-off unavoidable? How to we promote entrepreneurialism without the starve-and-ignore-your-family-if-necessary approach?