Are entrepreneurs always aligned with small business?

Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, December 12, 2016

My dad had numerous sayings, and here is one of my favorites. “Follow your own star.” He was a radiologist in St. Louis. He wore his lead vest until two weeks before he died.

In the hospital, he was offered an operation that might have worked, and if it worked, it might have given him another couple of years, maybe — and his attitude was, “I’ve had enough, no heroics, I’m outta here.”

Was he an entrepreneur? I’m not sure. He was the lead dog in a 22-man radiology group, which he inherited from his mentor. At that time, there were just the two of them. So, yes, maybe he was. He had a nice small business.

So what exactly is an entrepreneur and are they inaccurately conflated with “small business?” Both of our presidential candidates played fast and loose with facts, but one that both got wrong was this — “small businesses create all the jobs in the economy.” Not completely true, says Roger Martin, director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. He contends that they also destroy the most jobs every year. In other words, small business is actually a world-class jobs-churner.

Martin says that in comparison with big business “the little guy has lower wages, lower innovation and lower exports than the large businesses.” But at the same time, the phrase “startup/small business” garners almost universal approbation and applause, while in fact the big guy (Illumina or Qualcomm) has the higher productivity.

But what about small businesses that become big businesses? These are the companies that create the greatest number of net jobs, high salaries, high innovation and high exports. So the question that San Diego needs to face is not only where is the money for the entrepreneurial startup going to come from (this topic has been the source of much effort and limited success, ever since the start of CONNECT in 1980), but also can we provide the management and the leadership locally to be able to grow an oak from an acorn?

As we come to the end of the year, I continue to puzzle on this one. The Chargers initiative, Measure C, argued that to be a world-class city, we needed an NFL team, but it seems to me while that might be true, what San Diego needs more is something more tangible — money. We have new leadership in the city, (among many, one of them being my bride, Ms. Bry) and I am hopeful that they ALL will make this a focus of their efforts.

Now to the entrepreneur’s guide to the galaxy. I recently reviewed an article on “entrepreneurship porn” — which is code for the stories we tell of the great successes of a tiny percentage of startup companies. It includes the lies about passion, desire, sleepless nights, commitment, all in the blind pursuit of success — however you define it. It creates and supports the culture of constant comparisons. Am I ahead or behind? What about the guy who just sold his company for $200 million? The race is relentless — if you let it be.

So, here are some facts to balance the fantasy. Wells Fargo did a study on “the motive of the entrepreneur.” The No. 1 desire for 68 percent of the entrepreneurs was “a secure financial future.” You must be kidding, I know it’s legal, but what are you inhaling? The last thing a startup gives you is a secure financial future. You want security, get a job with your father and inherit the business (ask our president-elect).

Two-thirds said the next most important thing was to “be your own boss.” Hmm, why not ask the franchise owner of a single fast-food restaurant? This boss thing is overrated (I know whereof I speak — it’s the boss who does the firing and makes the payroll out of his own pocket when there is no money in the till.)

The next one was “set your own hours.” This is clearly a joke. Your hours are set by the reality of the business and most entrepreneurs are 24×7 for the first few years. I suspect this affects your children and the divorce rate as well (don’t ask me).

What seems to drive the entrepreneur along with the investor is the famous acronym — FOMO — fear of missing out. And so I ask — what exactly do you think you are missing out on?

Rule No. 490: Time is finite, choose carefully.

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