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The true meaning of 'entrepreneur'

If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, do not start out wanting to be one.
By Steve Tobak |



You do not need me to tell you that leadership and entrepreneurship are all the rage these days. It sort of makes sense since they go hand in hand: Entrepreneurs start businesses and leaders run them, right?


That is what I used to think.  


The problem is that entrepreneurs and leaders have another thing in common: Neither one is actually a job. And that might very well explain why millennials have all the makings of a great entrepreneurial generation but have failed to deliver on that promise.



Related: Study: Millennials are lagging when it comes to entrepreneurship


It was fascinating to see an infographic comparing The Case For and Against Millennials as the Greatest Entrepreneurial Generation. In addition to being the most educated and business-savvy generation, there has been quite a groundswell of media hype linking Gen Y with entrepreneurship, at least in theory.


Unfortunately, the millennial generation is also the most indebted, unemployed, and underemployed in decades. Not only has the labor force participation rate plummeted among that age group, so has entrepreneurship. If that is news to you, you will find more on the subject, including plenty of links to the data here


Related: Success Is Never an Accident. It's a Choice.


While economists and statisticians might come up with all sorts of theories and excuses for this extraordinary gap between reality and perception, I’ve got a somewhat different take. I don’t think a lot of people understand the true meaning of the word entrepreneur. 



My go-to online dictionary describes an entrepreneur as “a person who starts a business and is willing to risk loss in order to make money” or “one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.” Note the common keywords business and risk. If there is no real business or risk, you are not an entrepreneur.


The problem is all the media hype. First, there is the persistent entrepreneurial drumbeat, not to mention the common memes that corporations are evil and you won’t get ahead working for someone else. And the growing trend toward government safety nets among western countries certainly does not hurt.


So instead of getting a job and building a career, large numbers of people are finding ever-more creative ways of hiding the fact that they are unemployed, all the while telling themselves it is OK since they are entrepreneurs building their brand, platform, presence, following, or some other such nonsense.



Look, you probably do not want to hear this but if I do not tell you, who will? Entrepreneur is not a job. Leader is not a job. Social media guru is not a job. If there is no real expertise, no real product, no real business, no real risk, and no real prospect for return on investment, you are not working. And you are not an entrepreneur, either.


Related: Get Some Real Advice For God's Sake


If you want to be an entrepreneur someday, here is an equation you should print out and attach to your mirror, computer screen, smartphone, or wherever your eyeballs spend most of their time:


Entrepreneur + Capital = Products + Customers = Business.


Do not take my word for it. Look at every successful entrepreneur on the planet. That is the equation that got them there.


Evan Spiegel is the CEO of Snapchat. That is his job. It is a real company with a real product, real employees, and real investors. And I bet what he really identifies with is the cool ephemeral messaging app the company he co-founded came up with. Which is how they managed to attract hundreds of millions of extremely engaged users and raise more than half a billion dollars in venture funding. 



John Mackey is co-CEO of Whole Foods. Healthy food has always been his passion but the way he built his company–to serve all its major stakeholders–is unique. He wrote a book about it called Conscious Capitalism. I seriously doubt if Mackey thinks of himself as a great entrepreneur but as the co-founder of a great company that showed the world a new and better way to do business. 


I can go on but I think you get the point. These guys have jobs. Real jobs. They have products. Real products. And they have real companies that do real business.


If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, do not start out wanting to be one. Start out with a customer problem and a product that solves it. Get capital. Make the product, market it, win customers. Someday you will wake up and realize what you have become: a guy who took a risk, started a business, and made money. An entrepreneur. 



Related: To Be Successful, Do Only What You Do Best



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This article originally appeared on Minor edits have been done by the editors.


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