Of Entrepreneurs and "Non-trepreneurs"

Even though I started a business a little over two years ago, I rarely call myself an entrepreneur. Part of it is because I feel I need to hit a certain revenue, raise a certain amount of funding, or hire a certain number of employees to really earn the title. Part of it is because the word has French origins and—at least in American culture—connotes a glamour that I never associated with the process of starting and running these projects: the baking business, in particular was a labor of blood, sweat, and sugar, in that order. When I talked about my role at Zen Cookery, I called myself a founder or a small business owner rather than an entrepreneur, reserving “the 'e' word” for two situations: branding purposes in my business school and job applications and when talking to fellow “entrepreneurs."

The greatest part of my discomfort using the word “entrepreneur” is that most people I know who call themselves entrepreneurs are pretty obnoxious. Spending the past four years in and around business schools, where the hip thing to do is to "have an idea [you’re] working on,” it’s a nauseatingly common buzzword. I feel some shame of being a member of the contemporary cultural phenomena to which one of my favorite bloggers, Steve Tobak, refers in this article. My favorite tidbit follows:

“…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’re unemployed, all the while telling themselves it’s OK since they’re entrepreneurs building their brand, platform, presence, following, or some other such nonsense.”

I’ve hit up quite a few networking events in my time and hooked up with a handful of “entrepreneurs” over the years. Mingling at meet-ups and playing with fire on Tinder, my operating assumption became, "Beware of the entrepreneurs.” When meeting new people, while was open to being proven wrong, I generally treated entrepreneurship as euphemism for 'lost, confused, unemployed, commitment-phobic in love and business, and bad at working with or for anyone else.' This approach was a bold and useful filter as much for vetting future co-founders as well as future boyfriends. When I was out on a date in January and the guy taking me out told me he was an entrepreneur, one of my first questions for him was something like, “Are you an entrepreneur because you wanted to work for yourself or because you can’t work for anybody else?”* As time went on, he proved it was the former. 

There are more startups in this world than those started or chased after by educationally-pedigreed, Caucasian, twenty-something men in Silicon Valley. Whatever I can do to change this culture around who an entrepreneur is and what an entrepreneur does is action worth the while. 

For all the hype around startups in general and around startups at business school, in particular, my friends and peers are working on some truly meaningful stuff, from equalizing opportunity in the test prep space (Prepify) to reducing enterprise foodwaste (Spoiler Alert) to facilitating emergency communication (RapidSOS). Closest to my heart and stomach is the venture making it safe for people with food allergies to eat out at restaurants (Nima). And those are just a handful of those businesses that have funding, to say nothing of the ventures in their infancy and the rough-hewn ideas in the earliest stages of development. 

Outside of b-school, I know two people from college with a recruiting startup in Kenya--based on the vestiges on social media, DUMA Works is kicking ass. I have a friend nearly four years into a healthy pet food business, FedWell who just hired her first full-time employees and is undertaking her first official funding rounds--I’m hoping her recent feature on the PBS series ‘Start Up’ gets her one step closer to sharing her incredible story and pitching on 'Shark Tank.’ I have another friend who dropped out of undergrad who, against all odds and a few businesses later, is growing a successful venture and helping put his siblings through college.*

There was me, two years ago, tired of getting sick when eating out and disgusted by the ingredients in the few things I could safely eat. I knew I wasn’t the only one with this problem. I refused to suffer, chose not to settle, and got cooking—literally—to solve it. Then there’s me now, sitting with my motley ideas, most recently a social enterprise-powered beauty brand, a service facilitating wedding planning at any price point, and this recently-released little podcast for which I have very big dreams

What do all of these things have in common? Visions for a better world and someone risking everything to create them. Dreamers, but more importantly doers. People who don’t let failure get in the way of success. People who help others help themselves and make it their mission to fill the cracks in a broken world. 

Identify with any of the above? Then startup or not, you’re an entrepreneur at heart. And I’m right there with you. 

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*In all honesty, that friend is now a "more-than-friend" and happens to be that entrepreneur from the fateful date in January. I asked him for some words of advice to any aspiring entrepreneurs who might be reading this and he offered this: "Lack of resources won’t hurt you but a lack of resourcefulness definitely will.” Needless to say, I like him very much.