Do you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur?
I used to think that in order to be an entrepreneur, you had to live in San Fransciso.
You had to name your company something like Bumblr, Joustify, or Jooce.
And obviously it had to be a venture-backed tech startup.
Turns out that’s not the case. Phew.
(“Phew” would be decent startup name, actually.)
Here are three signs you might be an entrepreneur, now or someday:
1. You See Things Differently
One thing I’ve noticed while studying and working with successful entrepreneurs is that they have an incredible ability to see what other people don’t. Unmet needs, relationships, solutions. This is also true of great artists and creators.
When I was 4 years old, I was watching my parents paint our deck. All of a sudden, I started shouting “Look at the bowties!”
My parents were confused. They had no idea what I was talking about. I kept saying “Look! Bowties!”
Finally, my mom came over. “Show me one”.
I got down on my knees and pointed to a knot in the wood. “Bowtie”.
“Oh, you mean knots”, she said. My mom started laughing. Apparently I did this all the time.
While the ability to view the world through a different lens doesn’t guarantee success as an entrepreneur, it does seem to be a prerequisite. Founders must be able to see what could be, not just what is. Why else would they inherit the risk?
2. You Reject the Status Quo
Often, entrepreneurs don’t take the plunge until they are forced to. Most businesses are born out of a deep frustration; an unsolved problem.
One day during the first month at my first job out of college, I was moving numbers from one Excel spreadsheet to another. This isn’t what I did every day and I am grateful for that job. But in that moment I was completely braindead.
One of the firm’s partners walked past my office and said, “Hey Greg, how’s it going?”
“It’s alright,” I told him. “A little bit mind-numbing, though. This quantitative stuff is brutal.”
I’ll never forget what he said next, because it changed my life.
He told me, “Yeah, well, you can’t go to the boardroom right away.”
Even though his tone was casual, those words almost knocked me over. I thought to myself: “Holy shit. Am I going to have to wait ten years to actually make an impact here? And if I did, would that even be the type of impact I wanted to make?”
Something shifted inside of me at that moment. All of a sudden, the fear of regret outweighed the fear of failure. I thought, “Greg: If you’re still here a year from now, something is very wrong. You owe it to yourself to start something. You’re an idiot if you don’t at least try.”
And so, I tried. And I made a lot of mistakes. But I also figured some stuff out.
Eight months in, I got to the point financially and psychologically where I felt ready to leave my job and work on my business full-time. I'm so grateful that I did.
It’s not enough just to be frustrated. Everyone is frustrated about something. Entrepreneurs just choose to do something about it.
3. You Run a Profitable Business
This one is a little bit tricky. Some people define entrepreneurship as simply identifying a need and being paid to fill it. Others go a step further.
For example, marketing writer Seth Godin is very careful about distinguishing between freelancers and entrepreneurs (more on this here and here).
Entrepreneurs want to build something that might eventually exist without them. Their big, shiny object is scale. In order to scale, they often need to secure outside funding and get comfortable with a lot of risk.
Freelancers tend to be driven (at least initially) by freedom. They want to work for themselves and build something that matters, but they don’t want to sacrifice their lifestyle. You can’t separate a freelancer from their business, because they are their business.
In reality, I think the two categories probably fall on a spectrum. Especially as the internet allows freelancers to amplify what they do. It’s very common for freelancers to become entrepreneurs, or for entrepreneurs to adopt a hybrid model through coaching, consulting and speaking.
Neither model is superior to the other. It’s just important to know where you fall on the spectrum and then act accordingly.
The Reason I'm Not an Entrepreneur
Right now, I actually consider myself more of a freelancer. Even though I market and send out free content to lots of people each week, I make the vast majority of my revenue working with clients 1:1.
In other words, I trade time for money.
And, despite the internet's current obsession with passive income, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Freelancing is an incredibly fulfilling way to run to a business. It’s just not particularly scaleable.
Now, I could do more group work, hire other coaches, or create products and courses. And I could reach a broader audience that way. But as we go wide, it becomes harder to go deep.
(Some people will disagree with me on this, and that’s fine. All I know is that the only times I’ve truly transformed in my life or business, it’s been because of a person I met or an experience I had. Very few books, courses, or apps can create that shift.)
As a coach, I try to multiply my impact by only working with a handful of inspiring clients who I know are going to solve important problems. Then I create ripple effects through my free content. At least, that’s what I tell myself.
One day I may decide to move more towards the entrepreneurial side of the spectrum. But that’s all it would be: a decision. Because here's what I've realized...
Owning a business is not something that only the lucky among us get to do. No one is going to come sprinkle magic fairy dust on you. You just have to start.
So, what are you waiting for?