Ahh the entrepreneur… they’re their own boss, work when and how they want, wear a t-shirt and jeans every day as they build a business from the comfort of their garage. Held up as a pioneer of innovation, the entrepreneur has everything that an employee staring wistfully out of the window of their 37th floor office could possibly want…right?
Wrong. The media has (unsurprisingly) painted us quite a misleading stereotype. A stereotype that is encouraging a whole new generation to grow up wanting to be an ‘entrepreneur’. In some ways this is great, and coupled with the increasing flexibility technology allows us, we are becoming more and more free from outdated beliefs of what ‘work’ really means – a step that I believe will only make the economy more productive.
That aside, being an entrepreneur is about so much more than working flexibly, the clothes you wear and setting up a limited company. You can be entrepreneurial and innovative (and I would encourage you to be!), but that doesn’t make you an entrepreneur. You can wear a t-shirt and jeans every day as you work from the comfort of your home, but your clothing is irrelevant and it certainly doesn’t make you an entrepreneur.
Being an entrepreneur is a state of mind. And it’s a state of mind that not everyone possesses. Some employees may think they’re entrepreneurs, but the reality is that they’re not - and they’re unlikely ever to be.
Employees have expectations and ambition, where entrepreneurs have desires and purpose.
Forgive me if that sounds harsh, but one thing is very important to understand: the way an entrepreneur thinks is the polar opposite to how an employee thinks. Neither is right or wrong, better or worse, good or bad - but it is the difference between entrepreneurial success or failure.
Entrepreneurs are driven by the desire to make something better in society. This doesn’t mean they have to be the next Elon Musk or Travis Kalanick though. Big or small, the size of what they want to change doesn’t matter - it’s the fact they’re driven by purpose that’s important.
Whether you’re considering starting a business, or you already run one and are looking to hire a team, you must understand what is a stark and important difference in personality types between employees and entrepreneurs. Let me explain.
Expect value or create value?
Employees have expectations and ambition, where entrepreneurs have desires and purpose. By definition, an employee turns up for a day’s work in return for compensation, to be rewarded for their time spent. An entrepreneur has no such expectation. Instead, they believe that if they produce something of value, they will in turn receive value. It’s a fundamental, but significant difference.
Entrepreneurs don’t see it as ‘work’. Instead, they see it as their purpose.
Employees think short-term in comparison to entrepreneurs. They think about managing careers, not managing businesses or changing something in the world. They’ll ask themselves questions to help them get the most out of their careers: am I enjoying what I’m doing? Does my work interest me? What’s my next step? How do I get promoted? And there’s nothing wrong with this, it demonstrates an aspiration to get the most out of a career and manage it the best way possible.
The difference with entrepreneurs is that they don’t manage a career, they manage a business. And that means they don’t ask what’s next for them, they ask what is next for the market. I see this a lot with some of my new partners. For the first time, they see that their income now depends entirely on the value we create together inside Elixirr - they no longer receive a contracted salary. I know they won’t mind me telling you this, because it is a very real moment for us all!
It is in moments like these that people stop spending time on things that don’t add value to the business. They realise that people who like sitting in meetings discussing rights, roles, responsibilities, or setting up forums, networks and initiatives are not entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs know that everything they do needs to create business value. And if it doesn’t, they need to stop and change path. This becomes very real when you only earn what the market is prepared to pay you.
Employees that manage their career can choose what they spend their time doing. But for an entrepreneur the market chooses and they respond. This means an entrepreneur can, in fact, spend years doing something they actually don’t like doing! But what they have that an employee doesn’t, is the ability to work in shades of grey rather than black and white. Always keeping their longer-term purpose in mind means they can do this.
Work-life balance or do what you love?
I find it very interesting that when you speak to entrepreneurs, they never talk about their rights as a ‘worker’. They don’t talk about their role in the workplace and they don’t talk about work-life balance.
The reality is that it takes a certain character, a certain mentality – and it’s not one driven by expectation.
The reason for this is very simple: they don’t see it as ‘work’. Instead, they see it as their purpose. For the entrepreneur, there is no difference between work and life. And, I don’t mean that entrepreneurs work all hours or that they don’t work at all! I simply mean that for the entrepreneur, human endeavour (what is traditionally called ‘work’) is life itself. They tap into the creativity of the human spirit to pursue a longer-term purpose, vision and desire to change something in the world, whether it’s big or small.
For the entrepreneur, work-life balance doesn’t exist. There’s no need to take time away from the activities that earn them money, so they can spend time doing the things they really like doing because they’re one and the same. They turn their lives into their purpose and they fit everything they love into this endeavour.
This is not a selfish act. For entrepreneurs, it’s how they deliver on their purpose so they can deliver value to society. For me, this is a hugely significant difference between employees and entrepreneurs.
Lead or be led?
It would be easy to assume that the difference here is that employees like to be led where entrepreneurs lead. It is of course generally true that entrepreneurs are leaders – they certainly are the ones out there leading the charge in getting things done.
It’s purpose that puts a true entrepreneur back on their feet. Because they believe it will be 26th time lucky.
But there are many senior leaders in business who share the same characteristic when it comes to leadership - the difference is in execution. More often than not, success in executive positions inside large organisations means being good at managing politics – which is by no means an easy feat.
These leaders have to navigate politics, use influence and positional play in order to lead effectively. This is an entrepreneur’s worst nightmare! In contrast, entrepreneurs ignore politics, preferring instead to simply get the job done right, moving them ever closer to their vision. Remember that above anything else, it is value creation that motivates an entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurial or entrepreneur?
I meet many people who are interested in innovation and ideas, and many people who are incredibly creative, who live and breathe innovation. They’re often interesting and inspiring people to be around, but that doesn’t make them an entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurs are of course innovative, but what is more interesting is their mindset, their focus, their ability to get things done and to deliver value to people who are prepared to pay for it.
Employees are often interested in new ideas and driving innovation, but it takes something else to put your money where your mouth is and do it outside the organisation that employs you. It’s the entrepreneurs that are out there making the difference, taking the risk and delivering on their vision.
Entrepreneur: a state of mind
Being an entrepreneur is hard work. Really hard work! From the outside, it might look glamorous, easy, even ‘sexy’. And sure, if you get it right the rewards can be huge. But it’s not as easy as “I’ve got an idea, I’m going to start a business”. The reality is that it takes a certain character, a certain mentality – and it’s not one driven by expectation.
Successful entrepreneurs do not come from environments of privilege, where things are given to them as a ‘right’. In fact, expecting things to be given to you is the opposite of an entrepreneur’s attitude. Being an entrepreneur is about being able to embrace failure, take those knocks and get right back up again, because you’re not done yet – you haven’t achieved your purpose.
This might happen once, twice… perhaps even 25 times. It’s purpose that puts a true entrepreneur back on their feet. Because they believe it will be 26th time lucky.
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About Stephen Newton
Stephen Newton is the Founder and Managing Partner of Elixirr, a firm of entrepreneurs who pride themselves on challenging convention, helping their clients change the game in their industries and changing the game in their own. The Management Consultancies Association (MCA) voted Elixirr the UK’s Best New Consultancy.
Stephen is passionate about supporting and empowering entrepreneurs, and he has built Elixirr around this principle. They are famous for their entrepreneurial spirit – many of their consultants have gone on to start their own successful businesses.
Through Elixirr Capital, Stephen and his Partners invest money and consulting time into developing new ideas and existing startups. Stephen also runs a startup accelerator network, currently based out of Elixirr’s London office.