We live in an age that seems to revel in entrepreneurship. Starting your own business is the dream most millennials aspire towards and shows up in movies as every baby boomers retirement plan. But is it actually in danger?
As our pop culture makes movies about and idolizes brilliant entrepreneurs like Zuckerberg, Musk and that guy who founded McD’s, it seems we’re forgetting the conditions and decisions that created their overwhelming success and contribution to our lives.
In Canada, SME’s (small to medium sized enterprises with less than 500 employees) represent roughly a third of our economy and are responsible for the majority of innovation. But that world may be under threat. New studies show fewer and fewer University graduates are trying their hand at starting their own business and are doing so at an alarming rate. But in the age of popular co-working spaces, tech start ups and a positive view on starting a business, why are young people not joining the fray?
I have a few theories.
Let’s start with student debt. It may seem totally unrelated, but could the cost of University be impacting students’ willingness to take a bigger risk with their careers? Many scholars are starting to believe this theory, and it does have merit. Studies have shown that when populations are under greater financial stress, they tend less towards entrepreneurship and more towards the short-term rewards offered by employment. However, this theory doesn’t completely do it for me. Entrepreneurship is easier now than ever before, with many readily accessible business resources and support being offered by communities who recognize the need for small businesses.
So what is it? What’s stopping our youth from taking action?
I think the real threat to entrepreneurship is idealism. As a coach, who has spent the last 8 years working with young entrepreneurs start their first company, I’ve noticed one disturbing trend among Canada’s young business minds. Starting a business has always been about one thing; you solve a problem with a product or service and you do it at a price that allows you to earn a profit. Seems simple enough, but for many, starting a business has become much more complicated.
Pop culture trends have done 2 important things over the last decade. To start, we’ve painted entrepreneurship as the ultimate freedom, the dream that most aspire to achieve. And to add to that, we’ve decided that to achieve your dreams, you have to be running a business that you are totally passionate about. That’s how you find happiness at work! You find a job or company that you are totally passionate about and then work becomes unicorns everyday until you retire.
The problem is, with this vision on life, it becomes pretty damn hard to start a business, which is already a huge commitment that requires a ton of work. Now, you also need it to do something that’s meaningful to you and that you are passionate about. And the thing about passion, is it changes every few years, every few months and every few days even.
I remember growing up, I loved snowboarding, then I got into martial arts, then I started to learn about computers and thought programming was really cool, then I took an interesting business class and though I should do marketing, then I went travelling and thought maybe I wanted to do that forever… And it never ends. My interests, and most peoples interests and passions are ever changing and evolving beasts. How then, could someone choose a business they were passionate about? It becomes impossible. And then you add the that the fact that starting a business is supposed to be about making a difference, and changing the world to be infinitely better.
The effect on the world has been dubbed want-repreneuship and it is truly a strange trend to follow. What is a want-repreneur? My definition, is that they’re people who call themselves entrepreneurs because they seek the social recognition of someone who is working to change the world with their amazing ideas for apps or other extremely over-matured markets, like say mens wear or something else that’s trendy. Their product or idea is hard to differentiate from a million existing products and services already available and they aren’t selling it yet because they need to get everything in place and talk about it for as long as possible before they change their passion (inevitably) and move on to another idea.
How do you really spot the want-repreneur? He has taken 0 massive-actions with his project, has no sales and is focused on the “development” of his project before bringing it to the market. They are employed somewhere else and have not yet failed. Because, surprise surprise, real entrepreneurs fail. They fail a lot (hopefully quickly and cheaply).
So what has to change if we want entrepreneurship to prevail amongst our youth?
The answer is simply what we value from entrepreneurship. We need to value execution over ideas because ideas are completely worthless without execution. By changing our focus from the idealistic, back to the practical, we can create a wave of powerful leaders who will ultimately create our ideals. Passion does not come like the wind and take us over, we create passion by investing ourselves into a project and working away at it, through the worst storms and in the best of conditions.
Stop chasing the horizon of idealism and just start solving a simple problem for people. Make sure you enjoy it by framing your impact properly in your mind. For example, say I ran a business that made nails and sold them to construction companies. I could see myself as the nail guy, or just and guy who made nails, or I could understand the importance of the work my company did, providing high quality construction materials to builders who depended on them. I could be a supplier they relied on and take pride in that work like I could blow it off because I just made nails.
Ultimately, there are always different ways of looking at things, but when you change the way you look at things the world you’re looking at changes.
So now that you have the solution, the only question is, are you prepared to act on it?