When I was growing up I rarely heard of the term ‘entrepreneur’ and when I did, it usually referred to one of those unique people who had managed to make millions out of business-savviness and clever risk-taking. My Dad knew a few of those people and they always seemed terribly impressive to my young self. But in my world, the messaging I received at home and elsewhere centred around the need to create a stable, financially secure future for myself by getting a good education and finding my way into a large corporation or organisation as soon as possible. Getting a salary package, holidays, benefits and opportunities for ladder climbing would mean that I had ‘made it’ in life (at least that’s how I interpreted all those messages). So the idea of entrepreneurship simply never entered my world of options and seemed like a scary and risky proposition reserved only for the incredibly bold risk-takers among us.
But when I finally achieved all of that, – the salary, the employee benefits, shares and ladder-climbing opportunities – instead of feeling the great satisfaction, sense of accomplishment and happiness I thought I should feel, inside I felt miserable and empty. After almost fifteen years of working my way up through academia and the corporate world, in 2011 I knew the time had come to take a leap of faith and go it on my own. Even though it was the scariest thing I’d ever considered in my life, the call to follow the small-business-owner/entrepreneurial path was impossible to ignore. The alternative – spending the rest of my career working on someone else’s payroll, on their terms – was no longer acceptable. Suddenly the concept that once seemed so impossible became the only way forward. I’ve since learned that those two emotions – fear and excitement – are in constant tension on the path of the entrepreneur.
Now before we go further let me clarify; I’m a fledgling ‘entrepreneur’ and can’t speak with any authority yet on this whole topic. Up until very recently I’ve been a solopreneur in my coaching business Whispering Heart and just this week I hired my first virtual assistant (a big milestone for me!). It’s been up and down and I’ve been on a steep learning curve since quitting my corporate career in 2011. Through piloting and feedback I’ve developed a service that meets a need that people happily pay me for, and my services and products are constantly evolving and expanding. I’m on the path and continually learning and growing, thanks to some wonderful mentors and teachers. One thing I’m learning is that the definition of entrepreneurship is subtly changing. Bruce Bachenheimer, a clinical professor of management and executive director of the Entrepreneurship Lab at Pace University says “Entrepreneurship is much broader than the creation of a new business venture. At its core, it is a mindset — a way of thinking and acting. It is about imagining new ways to solve problems and create value.” And we all know you don’t have to be running a multi-million dollar company in order to imagine new ways to solve problems and create value.
Linda Rottenberg, entrepreneur extraordinaire, founder of Endeavor and author of Crazy is a Compliment: The power of zigging when everyone else zags says “Today entrepreneurship doesn’t just mean starting a tech company. It means undertaking any bold venture – from improving your neighbourhood to selling crafts out of your basement; from modernising your family business to proposing a new initiative in your corporation. The techniques involved in sharpening your idea, facing down critics, recruiting boosters, and handling setbacks apply in almost every realm of work.” She goes on to describe the increasing trend of entrepreneurs worldwide: “In the world today [there is] the unstoppable, unwavering trend toward individuals who seek to improve their own lives and, in the process, improve the world around them. They’re entrepreneurs.”
Research in Australia, my homeland, shows that “small and micro business is Australia’s fastest growing employment sector. Aussie start-up culture is burning brighter than ever before as Baby Boomers and Gen Y lead a movement to ditch the corporate ladder in favour of becoming their own boss.” . Research in the USA shows that people are increasingly choosing entrepreneurship too. A study by Intelligent Office revealed that nearly 65 percent of workers would rather be an entrepreneur or independent employee than work in an office. Rottenberg says “If some moments have been ripe for diplomats, financiers, soldiers, or politicians, today is ripe for entrepreneurs.” The reason for this she says is this: “The reasons behind the shift are complex, but they come down to one simple reality: We live in a time of uncertainty. Our economies, our companies, our jobs are no longer stable and secure. Change is the only constant. To survive, we all need the skills required to continually reinvent ourselves. Everyone needs to take some risk or risk being left behind.”
Despite the enormous growth in the entrepreneurial sector it’s true that it’s not cut out for everyone. There’s a general consensus that certain qualities make a good entrepreneur including: Unwavering passion, open-mindedness, the desire to become an expert, a forward-looking approach, a constant flow of ideas , a clear vision, an effective communicator, a desire to continually learn, view setbacks as opportunities , a moderate risk taker, self-confident, enjoy hard work, love challenge and problem-solving , enjoy change, uncertainty and variety and love to lead, motivate and empower others. If the majority of these qualities don’t sound like you, then entrepreneurship isn’t likely to float your boat for long.
As happens with the growth of any field or model, the entrepreneurial field is diversifying and spreading in its form and impact. Once reserved as a term largely for the start-up industry, it now infiltrates just about any sector you can think of. Rottenberg has spent her entire career finding, coaching and financially supporting fledgling entrepreneurs with big ideas through her organisation Endeavor. In her many years of experience of working with thousands of entrepreneurs and speaking on countless panels on the topic, she defines four different types of entrepreneurs. I found her definitions fascinating and insightful. Here are the different types and their characteristics. I’m most definitely a butterfly. Which one are you?
All definitions below are taken from Rottenberg’s book Crazy is a Compliment.
Gazelles, Rottenberg explains, are the classic entrepreneurs of myth and reality: “Someone who starts a new business venture and aims for it to explode into a white-hot phenomenon”. Examples are Home Depot, Facebook, Jenny Craig and Instagram. High growth is the goal. The term ‘gazelle’ was coined by economist David Birch in 1994 to describe high-growth businesses whose sales double every four years. Though only a miniscule 2-4 % of companies fit this model in the USA, this group accounts for nearly all job creation in the private-sector. When you hear politicians say “Small businesses really create most of the new jobs”, they’re talking about gazelles, Rottenberg says. In her experience, while wildly brilliant and visionary, gazelles tend to make the same mistakes over and over: They expand too quickly, they lose focus, they tangle with their partners and they can’t give up control. But when they have a supportive team around them who can help them balance out these aspects, they’re unstoppable.
The term ‘skunk’ was adapted by Linda from the Lockheed Corporation, which during World War II set up a secret division to build fighter jets. It was called Skunk Works. Linda uses the term to describe “Entrepreneurs operating within large corporations [who] go out of their way to stink up the joint.” They’re sometimes also referred to as ‘intrapeneur’, an employee operating within a company who takes responsibility for “turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation.” They’re often people who have become fed up with the limitations of conventional company practice and develop a better way to do it, or see something that is desperately needed and go against all bureaucracy, traditions and resistance to get it done. Given the rapid pace of change in the world and the need to adapt and innovate, corporations are now urgently requesting and encouraging their employees to be more independent and creative. The corporate world knows it’s essential to their survival.
These are people who dedicate their skills and services to helping the social sector become more entrepreneurial. These days they are referred to as ‘social entrepreneurs’. Rottenberg explains “Dolphins are contrarians in the non-profit or public sector who are willing to buck the conventions of their professions and agitate for real change. Why dolphins? Because they’re smart and social (they live in cooperative pods) and are one of the few animals shown to be altruistic toward others. But they’re not pushovers: Harm a dolphin’s pod, and watch out! Today even causes for which there are no compelling private-sector solutions are ripe for entrepreneurial shake-up. It’s dolphins making the waves.”
This may be the fastest-growing group of all. These are small-scale or lifestyle entrepreneurs. First among these are sole proprietors – plumbers, yoga instructors, freelance writers, organic farmers, artists etc. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that a majority of U.S. businesses have no paid employees. Forty percent of American adults have now spent part of their careers working on their own, and 24 million more are expected to be self-employed by 2018. Globally the number of independent contractors will reach 1.3. billion by 2020. Rottenberg explains “These fields are booming because they’re open to anyone: moms, dads, grannies, twenty-somethings, even teens starting microventures in their basements, cars or bathrooms. As Jay-Z put it ‘I’m not a businessman; I’m a business, man.’”
The second group among the butterflies have a handful of employees. There are 7 million companies in the USA that employ workers; 90 percent of them have fewer than 20 employees. While some of these entrepreneurs aim to be fast-growing gazelles, many are content to stay small and local. Rottenberg’s reasons for calling this group of entrepreneurs ‘butterflies’ is beautiful: “Butterflies are incredibly varied (there are at least 17,500 different types of butterfly) and [are] driven by freedom and individualism. In both Eastern and Western cultures, butterflies have long symbolised the soul, especially one reborn after a period of cocooning. Beyond personal transformation, butterflies are vital to their habitat and an indicator of its overall well-being. More butterflies equal a healthier ecosystem.”
At first glance, this group may not appear to reflect the ground-breaking level of skills that entrepreneurs usually harbour. She says “Do you really need to be disruptive when you’re selling homemade cheese at the farmer’s market? The answer: You do, especially because your competitor probably has an in at Whole Foods, now accepts credit card payments with a Square reader and has just launched a vibrant Web business.” Besides, she says, “butterflies are uniquely suited to this age of disruption. In chaos theory, ‘butterfly effect’ is the term given to the idea that change can come from anywhere. The weather in Central Park can be affected by a butterfly flapping its wings in South America […] Don’t underestimate the tenacity of a butterfly. […] They aren’t waiting for changes to happen to them; they’re making changes happen every day.”
So clearly entrepreneurship is no longer restricted to a minority group of high-growth tech start-ups but is infiltrating increasingly into every corner of life including the public sector, the corporate sector, and the small business/lifestyle sector. I found it humbling and validating to know that butterflies like me are on the rise and that “more butterflies equal a healthier ecosystem.” At the end of the day, a healthy ecosystem is one in which all species are thriving and growing. And in the case of entrepreneurship, this definitely seems to be one large, thriving and growing global ecosystem.
In service to helping you live your fullest and brightest life,
Katie De Jong, Ph.D
Life Coach & Career Strategist
Whispering Heart Coaching