Ten Questions About Entrepreneurs
I was interviewed yesterday by a journalist who is doing a television-style series on entrepreneurs which will be broadcast on the web starting this summer. He asked me somewhere around thirty questions about entrepreneurs. I didn’t take notes but here are ten questions I remember and a short quick summary of my answer.
What is entrepreneurship? It’s the art of turning an idea into a business.
Can entrepreneurship be taught/learned? I don’t think so. It’s like a personality disorder. You are born with it.
Is entrepreneurship limited to small companies? No. Some of the best companies in the world are run by enterepreneuers, like Apple/Jobs, News Corp/Murdoch, and Microsoft under Gates.
Are entrepreneurs "control freaks"? Yes.
What do you look for in entrepreneurs? First and foremost, they need to be magnets. For talent. For money. For attention. And for much more.
Is there an ideal age for an entrepreneur? No, although most start at a young age since they don’t belong in big companies. But once an entrepreneur always an entrepreneur. We’ve got one entrepreneur in our portfolio who is approaching 60 and working on his fourth company.
Are there many women entrepreneurs? Sadly, the answer in the tech/web business is no.
Do entrepreneurs have balance in their lives? Often the answer is no. But as they age, it gets better.
What skills would you advise an entrepreneur to acquire? Technical and product skills. Focus on the core offering. Let others worry about the rest.
Are entrepreneurs happier than others? This one stumped me. I gave a half assed answer. Since many of you who read this blog are entrepreneurs, why don’t you answer this one in the comments.
I would think that entrepreneurs’ are happier than others when applying their craft. When they aren’t it seems miserable.
I think @wisaac states it best. Entrepreneurship give us the opportunity to find the greatest personal fulfillment possible (through work). However, if you get bogged down in stuff that’s not part of your craft (accounting, taxes anyone) it can be hell.
Nice brief useful article.Regards,Saurabhhttp://www.goliexpress.com
Obviously, happy is a very subjective term and not a singular definition of anyone. But having been an entrepreneur for more than two decades, I know the pleasure that is derived from creating something, building a team, and satisfying a need. Making money can be part of that happiness, but I find it is often times not the primary motivator for entrepreneurs — or the measure of their happiness.
I wouldn’t say ‘happier’ but maybe we’re more miserable when we’re out of our element than others are. I certainly know some miserable entrepreneurs though
I think there are several types of entrepreneurs. Some are in it as a get-rich-quick scheme, some want some sort of glory and respect, and others really see a need and won’t stop till they provide a good way to fill it. This last group is chasing a passion, and I think anyone chasing a passion is a little bit happier and more fulfilled.
Like issackelly, I would say that we’re not necessarily happier, just happiest when we’re doing what we love and are willing to do what it takes to do what we love.
Most parents will say what they want most for their children is happiness and yet, as a society, we struggle with the concept. Two ingredients for happiness are gratitude and hope. Entrepreneurs nearly always have a lot of hope (sort of a disease!). I suspect we are often deficient in the gratitude department. Sometimes, it takes real effort to remind ourselves how fortunate we are.
How would I know? I have never been one of the others.
I don’t think being happy is correlated to being entrepreneur. As being an entrepreneur you said, you either are or you are not. I do not know what makes somebody being happy with oneself and the life around. Some people seem to be, others not – independent of the surroundings. So I would say entrepreneurs are not happier nor unhappier. But I agree with greg25c – I need to actively remind myself regularly how fortunate I am.
I am first time commercial entrepreneur (although I would claim I have always been an entrepreneurial educator).Happy as a pig in muck.Mihály Csíkszentmihályi describes a process “flow” – mindful engagement which effects brain chemistry in positive ways. Some people get it from running marathons, and some get it from running start-ups.
In regards to the last question, I think we’re happy never being satisfied 🙂
Not only a personality disorder, but often the ups and downs make it feel like bipolar disorder, so I’d say the answer is yes and no. My day yesterday started at five am after getting four hours of sleep. We had a meeting with a potential board member and got him signed on…super happy. We followed that with a meeting to walk through the details of the spec. I’ve spent night and day working on wireframes and requirements, and it wasn’t until we walked through them all together that it became clear to me that there’s no way we’ll get all of this built by our target GA date….super depressed.Overall though, I wouldn’t say entrepreneurs are happier than others, but I would say that they’re typically happy…and they’re MUCH happier than when they’re working for someone else.
I am a generally happy person.But asking if entrepreneurs are happy people is like asking whether rabbis are happy people, or nurses are happy people, or tennis players are happy people.Hearing a calling (or at least searching for one) and realising one’s potential at its fullest is what every human being strives for.Believe it or not, entrepreneurs are human beings too 🙂
Entrepreneurs are happier AND more stressed at the same time when doing their own startup!
Good post… About the question – “Are entrepreneurs happier than others?”…As an entrepreneur who has also been an employee, I’ll over generalize and say “Yes.” Typically, entrepreneurs become entrepreneurs because they are very passionate about creating something that can change the world(in a small or a big way). If successful, that can provide a lot of personal satisfaction and fulfillment.As “Paul” stated, there a definitely “peaks and valleys” though 😉
I think the real answer is entrepreneurship = manic depression.
I’m an entrepreneur with four successful companies under my belt. And although I get burned out and frustrated, and have my highs and lows, I’m very happy, and confronting the challenges of getting a new business off the ground gives me my greatest satisfaction. Even when I’m exiting one project, I’m already working on five others. It is like a personality disorder.
Can entrepreneurship be taught/learned? I don’t think so. It’s like a personality disorder. You are born with it.It can’t be cured, either… although it can be treated. :)I’ve been involved with three startups now, two as a founder… one mild success, one dismal failure. And you know, even when it’s been bad, I was happier than I’d ever been working in a company I didn’t join in the startup phase. Why? The excitement of building something new is often part of it, but more than that, it’s being the master of my own destiny. That’s why I love the startup phase, but would (almost) just as soon get out of the way and let more experienced management take over once things get more established. I love the building, but the growing isn’t as exciting (for me). To each his own, I guess.
i think you are a very typical entrepreneur. the building is exciting, the operating isn’t i feel the same way about our investments. once the business is figured out, the team is built, and the profits are flowing, it’s less interesting to me.
Happiness is a function of access to capital
I’d have to say that entrepreneurs have to be fatally optimistic.
Regarding “happier” I’d say No, they aren’t explicitly happier than others. I’ve met and worked with plenty of miserable, negative entrepreneurs in my time. Entrepreneurs who run companies that meet their passions tend to be happier, as they are living dreams – but the truth is they are on the rarer side…Also, I do like your comment about ‘personality disorder’ – especially in context of the flawed thinking these days that anyone/everyone SHOULD go start a new company. Entrepreneurs are special folks with certain odd desires that aren’t quite common.
I’m certainly happier being an entrepreneur than I was working for some big company, and I’m working very hard to make sure I never have to go back to doing that.
Passion is the key word. I’ve started, and sold on, four publishing businesses in the UK, but wouldn’t have even started if I didn’t have a passion for my particular niche: bicycles.Would Murdoch or Job be so good at being entrepreneurs if they weren’t first passionate about newspapers or great consumer products? If you’re passionate about your niche (it can be a big niche), you’re happy, even if you’re not smiling all the time.
If you’re all like me, addicted to the art of taking an idea from the napkin to production, it’s never about being happy. It’s mostly about being content for a moment because something worked. I try to separate my work life from my home/family life. My wife doesn’t understand what I do and neither do most of my family members. I’m almost always happy but nearly always tormented by the ideas flooding my brain. They never stop and never go away for long.
From the comments above, I get a feeling that entrepreneurs are arrogant people who feel they are above the rest…but I will tell myself this trait is not generic.
I always tell myself that making generalisations and misjudging people because of some traumatic and limited experience I had in the past shouldn’t be reason enough for me to project my fears unto others.
If they have the resources to make it happen, the passionate entrepreneur with a vision, the scientist on a path to great discovery, and the film director with an awesome script, are happier than most anyone on earth. Too bad the resources part is so rarely in place. It means about 95% of visionaries, entrepreneurs being one type, are frustrated and angry much of the time.
Scott Johnson, On behalf of all visionaries, I demand an apology and retraction for calling us frustrated and angry, you elitist snob!!!!
Fred,Long time fly on the wall, first time post. I have got to disagree with you on this:Q: Can entrepreneurship be taught/learned? A: I don’t think so. It’s like a personality disorder. You are born with it.I disagree — people can learn to take or balance risks as they get older.Just my two cents,Kamlesh
entrepreneurs are action- and risk- and thrill-junkiesso i would argue they are “happier than others” — because a person actually can have control over fulfilling that desire; a person can mindfully put themselves into action and into risk and thrillsbut the entrepreneurs “happiness” wouldn’t feel like “happiness” to people who aren’t entrepreneurs (or share their personalities), just like the joy that rollercoaster fans feel on rollercoasters may not feel so great to people who don’t love wild rides
Happier than others? Happiest! I honestly couldn’t imagine a better “job” than building your own business. The freedom, the exhilaration of learning (constantly learning), the challenge of solving puzzles/problems — it doesn’t get much better than this. And the monetary rewards are simply an added bonus.But you do have to “have what it takes” as they say — the security of a J O B goes a long way to providing happiness, for some at least.As for me, I’ll always be an entrepreneur.
Happiness comes with the successes of the business. The great part is that success happen all the time and sometimes it’s the little things that can really make you feel good. Happiness gets harder to find when you lose sight of all the smaller success along the way, because in the long run the odds are always daunting and it becomes more difficult to define success. Long run success is a moving target and so, therefore, is the entrepreneur’s happiness. If they take the time to appreciate, or at least realize, the successes along the way, entrepreneurs can be some of the happiest people.
I had a friend who once said he thought happiness was simply an abstract idea/concept we pursue over the course of our lifetime, but never truly achieve. This friend and I are both in business together as entrepreneurs. At first, I was taken aback by this statement, but after attempting to be more objective, I think I understand where he was coming from on the issue.Entrepreneurs tend to have certain innate personality and character qualities that put them on a happiness roller coaster. We are rarely satisfied with our performance, successes, or even our abilities. It’s the endless pursuit of empowerment, achievement, and constant learning that makes us happy. But because we are rarely, if ever, content with our current status in these areas (the endless pursuit), we never really achieve that blissful, long-term happiness everyone seems to so nonchalantly mention as the eventual norm in life. Yes, some may achieve it as their personalities and lifestyles are suited to it. But to me, I think my partner has a good point as far as entrepreneurs go.So what’s the next best thing to achieving that pie-in-the-sky happiness? Getting brief tastes of it all throughout your life that encourage you to keep on striving for it, even if you never experience it in that blissful, long-term manner. In the end, you’ll only be better for it.
If happiness equates to being somewhat more in control of your own destiny than others, then yes, entrepreneurs lead happy lives.
in Yoga they say there are three types of happiness: 1. having the conditions of your life meet some pre-defined status that you desire, 2. not having the conditions meet your desire, but not caring about it, 3. being free of caring about the conditions of your life (some call this nirvana or enlightenment) from my experience many entrepreneurs are happy somewhere between 2 and 3. being an entrepreneur is all about dealing with uncertainty. the more you can free yourself from worrying about it, the happier you are.
Passionate pursuit = happiness. Doesn’t have to be entrepreneurship, could be anything……just don’t celebrate your “catches” or dwell on your failures for too long.
“Passionate pursuit = happiness. Doesn’t have to be entrepreneurship, could be anything…”… until you get a restraining order
i agree, being an entrepreneur is taking an idea and turning it into a business. i was just thinking this exact the other day – i’m so proud of taking an idea and turning it into something that is now (finally) paying myself, and the two other guys i work with. i really appreciate money now, much more so than when i was getting a regular paycheck. i didn’t work for bad companies, it’s just that everything i do now…i do. i’m excited about 20 different things at one point in time. everything is hectic. if i’m spending time on thing, i’m not spending time on another. but i’m happy.
I very much agree on the definition of entrepreneurship! And somehow we are born with it.. however, our changing living environment can change and affect our abilities and personalities. So I think entrepreneurship can be “taught” and “enlightened”. I think everybody has different creative thinking and point of views that others may not come out with. when comes into entrepreneurship, it really depends on if he is willing to express his new ideas before others, abilities and opportunities to transit his new ideas into realities. Perhaps, there are several persons that have same ideas on google search engines but they did not have abilities(skill) or opportunities (time and money) to turns it into real. If you were born with your music talent, you did not learn and improve it, you may have less abilities and opportunities than others. Creating a new thing is important. more crucial, is that how you could maintain and develop it better and better.
@Wilson:Perhaps you should qualify entrepreneurship. Like Jay here, I’m not sure it’s as black & white.I know a lot of people who started their own business because they saw a chance to take their skills and clients to the next level. Ask them if they were “born” with it, and they’ll likely answer that they have no idea.Similarly, considering the numerous opportunities & education available for starting a business these days, there are people that wonder whether entrepreneurship is not just becoming another job, one for which some skills can be trained.But I agree that something like passion can probably not be trained. Still, being “born” with it, seems like a strong statement.
It’s just one man’s opinion. Doesn’t mean it’s right.
It’s all about the YES vs. the NOI love being the master of my work. I’ve worked at large and small media companies and what’s frustrating about companies is how many times people say “no” without good reason. Having/starting a startup there’s a place where the “yes” can be accomplished. This process is a drug – and it’s a tough drug to quit.Why would anyone want to go back to the land where the irrational “no” lives?
Great line. I reblogged it at fredwilson.vcThanksfred
The problem is that many VCs are masters of the irrational “no” and they get Board seats…
I think an entrepreneur is happy as long as he is following his heart and doing what he loves and not in business for the wrong reason and doing the wrong thing. I think there are several people who start a business doing something that they are not passionate about
“What skills would you advise an entrepreneur to acquire? Technical and product skills. Focus on the core offering. Let others worry about the rest.” this is a great quote
Mastery of the skills need is the secret to self-esteem, the person who feels the daily completion highs is happy.The person focused on money is unhappy, the person who attains respect or wealth as a byproduct of Entrepreneur endeavers is happy.99 percent of Entrepreneurs wanted to be free and became a hostage of their business, the other 1 percent found freedom.Andy of HoboTraveler.com in Panjachel, Guatamala, Lago Atitlan looking at volcanoes and maybe I am working…
Hi Fred,I have always wondered about being a woman and trying to be an entrepreneur, and I’d definitely like your perspective on it. I’m personally interested in the business of tech and one of my pie-in-the-sky goals/dreams is to be an entrepreneur and be able to pioneer a product or technological development and bring it to the marketplace. Of course, I’m still really young, just about to graduate college, so maybe I’m still allowed to have ridiculous ideas. (Not that entrepreneurship is ridiculous, but realistically, it is a rare opportunity for anyone…perhaps I’m too much of a realist to be an entrepreneur?…) I don’t even know if I have the personality for being an entrepreneur, but I’ve always been on the lookout for examples of successful female entrepreneurs. Sadly, 99% of the ones I come across are NOT in the tech business. In fact, while it is somewhat heartening that many women are running their own businesses, I’m rather disheartened that these businesses are geared towards “woman things” – underwear, cosmetics, fashion, etc etc. I feel that the message is that women can of course succeed in business, if only they cater to the “woman’s niche” in the market.In thinking about why this is so, I have concluded that entrepreneurship has a very large social component to it, such as, the sharing of ideas, the ability to convey expertise and convey confidence to vc’s or to others that you may be interested in working with. And let’s face it, the tech world has yet to view men and women working in it as equals. And um, well, the simple fact is, whether they recognize their own ingrained prejudices or not, people are less likely to share ideas with you when you’re the only woman in the room, trying to succeed in something as ‘male’ as tech. All in all, I get the feeling that it is far more frustrating for a woman trying to be a tech entrepreneur, and that getting attention for your ideas as a female tech entrepreneur is just all the more difficult. I would say the high frustration and difficulty is somewhat correlated with the low percentage of women deciding to study engineering and science in the first place. The reasons for both are very similar.
JessicaI will work on a post on this topic, but the one thing I want to say is thatsomeone has to break through and become the role model that others willfollow. There have been a few women who have had big successes as techentrepreneurs but not enough. Maybe you can be one of them.Fred
Jessica,One trade-off tech entrepreneurs have to live with is that often they may come across as unpleasant. Caring about your idea means that often you have to say/do things that run against social etiquette. In doing what is right for my company I have been called a jerk, egomaniac and what not, and that’s just the way it is, you do not let it impact you and just keep plugging. Most women, in my view, care too much about how they are perceived socially and would sacrifice their passion out of a need to be “nice”.
Fred – This is an interesting post on many levels. Here are my thoughts:I think if someone has entrepreneurial tendencies they can be taught. I say this because I have taken and taught entrepreneurship classes at the college level at the UT Austin business school. The vast majority of students will never start their own businesses but the few who have and who will will use the tools, people, etc. presented in the class to make something happen whether before they graduate, soon after, 10 yrs out, or 50 yrs out. But they must have the spark, the desire, and be comfortable with the unknown.Rather than a personality disorder I like to think of it as a different way of viewing the world, comfortable with chaos/ambuiguity, and feeling they can make a difference and finding creative ways (not just VC backed) to make it happen. A very small % of entrepreneurs take outside capital.Sadly, as you said there are not many women entrepreneurs in the tech/web world and in my opinion it’s because there are not many women VCs or investors. I strongly believe that people promote/uplift in their image (their comfort zone) and given the tech world is still dominated by men you won’t see this change until there are more women involved. More VC firms need to take more risks by hiring more women regardless if their degree/training is in tech. Because when you say things like you advise entrepreneurs to acquire “technical and product skills” and most girls/women were not encouraged or not drawn to those fields at a young age you dismiss, in my opinion, a big reason why several start-ups make it (i.e., all the other stuff). Gates was technical but Microsoft would not have made it without the non-technical people who may not have been founders but were there early. Wozniak was technical and Jobs took the lead on the other stuff. I may get flamed for this but I believe men and women think differently and view the world differently. There are not enough business/investor mentors out there who get or are comfortable with how women think/strategize/take action, etc. so often we are forced to act like men which works for some but not for most.As Gail Evans, former VP at CNN, says we all have one life and work is part of that life just like play so balance is what you make of it.I think if an entrepreneur is comfortable listening to their internal drive and not being overly influenced by the hype/peer pressure, they can be happy. If you are doing it just for the money or fame, in the vast majority of the cases you will not be happy because the money won’t come. Personally, I can run the full range of emotions on a daily basis but the more I pay attention to what’s right for me and my family, the happier I am. As someone mentioned previously, this is not a black/white answer because it is like asking if doctors/nurses/sanitation worker/lawyers/mothers/parents are happier than others! I know some unhappy entrepreneurs, depressed mothers, happy mothers, miserable hairdressers, happy dental hygenists, etc.In the tech world, we often lose site of the fact that there are much easier ways to make money and taking your time to do it right is not a bad thing. 🙂
It’s fascinating that there is so little participation from women in the world of internet entrepreneurship. But wide gender asymmetry is found throughout the world of software development, so it shouldn’t be surprising to see it observed here. Kind of a dark ages thing, I guess. When I look at the Y Combinator startup school video, I can get the feeling that women might not feel very welcome. I’m not suggesting that it’s a sexist environment, just that it’s such a “boy” thing. This should be pretty inspiring to creative entrepreneurs — a large herd chasing a small set of ideas.
Regarding “are entrepreneurs happier than others”, a more pertinent question you should ask yourself is “would I personally be happier as an entrepreneur or not?”
I think I am happiness has to be in perspective. Non entrepreneurs are happy working 9-5. They are happy improving their career by advancing their education and learning new skills. I am not happy with that though. I thirst for the creation of something. I thirst for creating a life story that my grandchildren are amazed when I tell them.I think ultimately what I love most, what makes me keep at being an entrepreneur, is not that I am generally more happy, but that I think that the roller coaster is much more exciting. I think that the happiest moments that I have are worth the lowest lows. I would rather be on that roller coaster than on one that is more flatlined. Which seems more fun to you?Chrishttp://www.propertystampede…
Thanks, Fred. I’ve always maintained that I wasn’t an entrepreneur. Seemingly, we agree.
I am still young and starting out but I will hazard a guess that an entrepreneur’s level of happiness is directly related to that of their significant other’s willingness to tolerate sentences that begin with phrases like: “I have this new idea….”Currently reading Prophet of Innovation, bio on Joseph Schumpeter – the economist who coined the phrase creative destruction. I was very interested in reading the book, but dreaded the idea of a bio about an economist, however Thomas K. McCraw does an amazing job of making the story flow, entertain and educate.Schumpeter also wrote some of the first theories on what motivates an entrepreneur – tying psychology and sociology into the economics of entrepreneurship. While his views have become the basis for what we know today the strength of his convictions and how well they do hold up today considering when and where he wrote them – it makes for a fascinating read on entrepreneurship.
Fred – I’m having trouble mapping your concept of an entrepreneur to a specific title. Consider a company founder who is a great technologist and product person. The business is a fit for venture funding. What’s the appropriate role / title for the founder? It seems to me there are two choices, neither of which is ideal:1) Founder takes the CEO role. But many VC’s would content that the #1 job of a CEO is to raise funding. This seems less than ideal. The founder will be distracted from focusing on product. Fundraising may also not be their strong suit. The founder could try to largely delegate fundraising to someone else on the management team, but this may raise a red flag among some VC’s.2) Founder brings on a CEO. This largely frees them from fundraising but now they have the drag of having to justify day to day decisions on product, budget and schedule. All of these may be areas where they trust themselves more than the CEO.Would love to get your thoughts on this (and happy to flesh out the scenario if there’s not enough information).
content = contend…
I think a founder/ceo who is product centric can raise money if they are talking to the right VCs
Thanks Fred. If you think it’s interesting enough and not well-covered ground I’d love to see a blog post with your take on the statement “the #1 job of the CEO is to raise money”.
Are entrepreneurs happier that employees – almost certainly, on average, owing to selection bias :-)Forget whether the statistics are valid or not – it’s just the principle.Assume that 20% of the population would be happier as entrepreneurs, and 80% happier as employees.Assume that 5% of the population are entrepreneurs, and 95% are employees.I’m willing to believe that the employee pool is far more “diluted” with repressed entrepreneurs than the entrepreneur pool is diluted with wanabee employees who have fallen into entrepreneurship by accident.Oh, and you can safely assume that I’m far happier as an entrepreneur, even when things are going badly, than I ever was as an employee 🙂
If it is true that “Happiness is wanting what you have, not getting what you want,” Then I would say that entrepreneurs are not happier. Happy people are content with their surroundings, but entrepreneurs are always looking for better ways, more efficient, new, innovative ways to do things and improve things. Entrepreneurs are looking to the future trying to achieve goals.But at the same time, the pursuit of betterment is fulfilling in and of itself. So it’s probably a wash.
Regarding the question of whether entrepreneurs are happy…. I don’t believe this question has an answer, unless you can answer “Are human beings happy?” I can talk about whether or not I am happy. Absolutely! Even though I am a brand new entrepreneur working on my first startup that hasn’t even launched yet. But I can say that this has been the happiest time of my life and the most rewarding process yet. And all of it has to do with my definition of happiness. Happiness is a funny thing. No one can define it, but we sure know it when we feel it. That’s because source of happiness changes; what made you happy yesterday, may not bring you happiness tomorrow. You have to closely examine your “happiness triggers”. I digress…For me happiness is growth. If I am not growing, I am not happy. For me the entrepreneurial process has been a tremendous growth experience. I soberly realize that most startups never make it. And that’s not enough to deter me from trying. Because it’s been about the process more than anything. I had to build emotional strength to deal with uncertainty, I had to become better at balancing optimism while keeping in touch with reality. I had to become better at sales. I had to become better at communicating ideas of varying complexity in an exceedingly simple manner. As a person who hadn’t touched technology until last year, I had to get out of my comfort zone and explore the unknown. I had to familiarize myself with the development process (front end and back end), enough to talk intelligently with my tech team and ensure that my dream turns into reality, and enough to get fascinated by it. I had to retrain my brain to see each “pain in the ass” problem as an opportunity. I had to learn how to put together financial statements. Oh and did I mention, I had to learn to live with uncertainty, and not just live with it, but revel in it? I had to learn how to look forward and not look back, except to analyze mistakes. Perhaps saying “had to learn” about all of these points is inaccurate, because I have only just started. Clearly I don’t have the entrepreneurial experience to have fully developed any of these traits / behaviors. But one thing I know for sure, I am happy.
I would say that starting your own business does make you happier overall because it gives you freedom and flexibility, and the power to run your life your way.
as an entrepreneur, if you are fulfilling purpose i.e. doing that which you are passionate about: there is no greater joy acrued to that.