The value of time and the word “entrepreneur”

I hate the word “entrepreneur”. I don’t know why, but I always have.

I cringed when in one of my first MBA classes we were introducing ourselves and one of the guys in the class described himself as” an entrepreneur”. People looked impressed till someone asked him what he did… He ran a car cleaning franchise. Not exactly my definition of an entrepreneur.

However, the Oxford definition of an entrepreneur isA person who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit.” Under this definition Mr. Car Cleaning Franchise could be an entrepreneur, as “setting up a business” isn’t exactly prescriptive.

I don’t want to disregard the years of history of the Oxford dictionary, but I think there are a couple more dimensions needed to completely describe an “entrepreneur”.

An entrepreneur has to be successful, and this takes time. They may not be successful in their first or thirteenth business venture, but eventually they will be. You can’t call yourself an entrepreneur upon starting your first business, or after your first successful year, it takes longer than that. You can’t be an entrepreneur if you aren’t successful. Without success you are just a nut trying out bad business ideas; entrepreneurs learn from their mistakes.

Also the business which the entrepreneur is in contributes to whether or not they can be called an entrepreneur. What do I mean? Well, practically anybody can run a successful business. You could set up a shop which sells cakes and makes enough money to live a cosy lifestyle. Are you an entrepreneur? To me no. You are a successfully self-employed. Congratulations, there is nothing wrong with this and you are the backbone of our economy, but to me you aren’t an entrepreneur.

To me, an entrepreneur is someone who has successful businesses which over time don’t require their full involvement. Part of being an entrepreneur is being able to step back and move your focus onto the next challenge. Maybe you build the cake business up so that you can afford to hire someone to run it for you, freeing up your time to either retire or (realistically if you are an entrepreneur) to look for new business ideas.

My boss, Selwyn is an entrepreneur. He has earned the title through multiple successful businesses over decades of hard work. He made mistakes along the way, which he openly shares in the hopes that we also won’t make them. Most notably he cites spending 10 years of his life making picture frames, as his biggest mistake, but through this he learned that when evaluating business opportunities you really have to identify whether or not the opportunity is going to be worth your time.

Can the business eventually operate and turn a profit without you there? If not, then at best you are going to be successfully self-employed for your working life (nevermind the problems you’ll encounter when you want to retire), but you’ll never be an entrepreneur. The value of time and the word “entrepreneur” go together like peas and carrots Forest.

4 thoughts on “The value of time and the word “entrepreneur”

  1. Great post and so true! I remember once talking to an ‘entrepreneur’, who ran a incubator. They were making money off consulting, but had never really owned and successfully run a business. The term is flung around so often today.

  2. Hey Tim, thanks so much for commenting. I think we might need to either 1) sign a petition to have the word redefined in the dictionary, or 2) make up a completely new word. I suppose it it just a word… but one you need to earn just like putting PHD behind your name.

  3. i agree with you about the word entrepreneur, tho’ my reason for loathing it has more to do with george bush, who claimed that french had no word for entrepreneur – it just reminds me of those days (whoa, are they back again?) where i had to hide my passport when going through passport control….but i digress.

    the danish word for entrepreneur is iværksætter which captures a bit more of the essence of business owner that you describe with the car cleaning guy – if i literally translate it, it would be “one who sets work in motion” – much entrepreneurship today is exactly that…there are very few people truly creating something wildly new (twitter, facebook, the new google, the new apple) who are entrepreneurs – but there are many hard-working people who set work in motion.

    1. Ha ha I love that, where would we be without those Georgisms!

      I totally get what you are saying about another language capturing the word better, I’m guessing English lost something in its translation or over time, it would be interesting to know what the word means to a French person, whether it captures more than it has came to in English.

      And I agree with you about creating something new, I don’t think it has to, though the process you use to create something will be likely to be new or rethought or redefined, this will be where the innovation comes in to play.

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