“I am on a financial hamster wheel. I had a chat with a good entrepreneur friend of mine the other day and he admitted to having relatively severe anxiety from worrying about the future. I do, too.
“When did entrepreneurship stop being something that I was doing, and became something I was being — because I do it?”
Being an entrepreneur doesn’t seem like a job or a calling anymore. It seems like an unquestionable identity. Something that the world, and myself, expects me to be.
So a good question is — why?
Am I only worth something if I make money? If I make the world change around me? If I change the world through making money?
Being a financially successful disrupter of industries — those ten minutes of fame before you get disrupted yourself — seems to be the highest esteem society can bestow on you nowadays.
People give you money because you gave them convenience. Bravo. Hurray. Now, move along and make room for the next guy.
I too have felt the same as Tom who writes:
“Entrepreneurship culture is so quick to glamorize this lifestyle. The custom hours, the Bali life — but nobody talks about the significant financial risks, the burnout, the overworking.
“The Things You Love Doing Will Turn Into A Cage.”
There’s no glamour here. Rushed breakfasts with dribbled milk. Skipped moments in nature when I would normally be walking. An exercise machine that gets dusty. Calls to my parents that invariably begin — “I’m sorry, I’ve been so busy.”
Six months ago, I decided to get off the hamster-wheel. I let go. I wanted to see what — if I let everything drop away — would stay. Would I still want to be an entrepreneur? Would my passion remain?
Cynthia and I chatted online about what it means to be — literally BE — an entrepreneur.
“Other people would always say that they could see me owning my own business but I never really saw that about myself,” Cynthia told me.
“Then when I started working on Altcoin Fantasy, I could see what everyone else saw and now it’s hard for me to imagine not being an entrepreneur and being my own boss.”
I let the last six months clarify for me where I wanted the balance to rest between the identification of Self and Entrepreneur. I’m a woman who stays strongly in my feminine. I wanted to stay in my strong feminine gift of receiving. I didn’t want entrepreneurship to come by force.
Dedication, yes. But not force.
I wanted to see what I would learn. What topics would engage me? What problems I would notice. What frictions might I feel inspired — and empowered with the tools — to change.
Cynthia told me:
“I think people come to entrepreneurship from a lot of different paths and not everyone sees themselves that way — as an entrepreneur I mean. A lot of times, you do just do it because there’s some drive, compulsion or mission that speaks to you and you’re not thinking ‘I’m an entrepreneur’ but more just that, this is cool! This is something I really want to do!”
I wanted the cool back in my life, too.
Identities — as cultural codes of belonging — are complex mantles. Generally, they involve some aspect of doing and performing, rather than just being. I’m a mum, for example, because I do mum things (like have children.) Mum is something I be and do.
When our identity depends only on what we are doing, rather than who we are being, we introduce a layer of abstraction between who we are and who we understand ourselves to be that, at least in my own observation, adds painful friction to our conceptions of self when the ability to do that action leaves us.
When I was in my twenties, I identified as a dancer. What did I feel, then, when troubles with my knees meant I couldn’t dance anymore?
I went through months of frustration, withdrawal, and self-blame for not being good enough to do what I identified as. I fought to be good enough for my body to allow me to dance again. (Twenty years later, my knees are healed enough that I have started.)
It took months, but I learnt that who I was — someone who loved dancing — didn’t change. What I loved was still in me. I was the dance.
I see the world right now as in the grasp of an entrepreneurial bloom. (Like jellyfish, or algae, but entrepreneurs.)
Entrepreneurs are a new species spawning and bubbling all over the world, feeding off the diverse debris of our lives that need disrupting like warm ocean currents of excess nutrients — because our lives in the 21st century are ripe for disruption. The beating hearts of 8 billion humans are fertile ground for the hopes and dreams of the next 1000 years.
From my own perspective, I see this bloom of the new financially free-thinking as a reaction against the rigid cultural programming of the early 1900s that turned nations full of industrious home-based business people into a mass culture of consumption and wage slavery.
John Taylor Gatto, an American educator, wrote “Underground History of American Education,” his thesis for how modern schooling was designed to create nations of employees and consumers, and take away from people the skills to run their independent home businesses, because there was concern at the highest levels that if there were too many businesses, too much competition, and not enough buyers because the masses were builders and “makers”, the economy would collapse.
So much for capitalism and democracy based on economic freedom. It was stolen from us as children through social engineering.
In 2003, Gatto wrote:
“First, though, we must wake up to what our schools really are: laboratories of experimentation on young minds, drill centers for the habits and attitudes that corporate society demands. Mandatory education serves children only incidentally; its real purpose is to turn them into servants.”
According to the editors at asianentrepreneur.org there are now 400 million entrepreneurs globally — around 5% of the world’s population. For comparison, Global Entrepreneurship Monitor surveyed 65 different economies worldwide in 2017 estimated the number as being 582 million.
As a significant proportion of the population, we’re reclaiming our independent, inspired, empowered, entrepreneurial spirits — but on an aspirational scale of mass impact — where, if we are to be successful, running a home business that feeds us, our children, and our aging parents isn’t enough anymore.
No, we as independent founders must aspire to be as successful as or even eclipse the engines of global corporate conglomerates that have a headstart of multiple decades or even a century of governmentally sanctioned socially engineered propulsion behind them.
That’s a large burden to carry on our shoulders.
And I think that this is where the personal friction and the sense of failure can really take root and devour us. We don’t just expect ourselves to be entrepreneurs.
We expect ourselves to be unicorns.
We are David’s against the Goliath’s. And it’s our job to make unicorns real.
Over the last few decades, entrepreneurs with a digital strategy have changed and are changing how we travel, how we relate, how we pay, talk, book, how we enjoy, play, entertain, learn, work, write and almost every other aspect of our external lives.
But what happens when an entrepreneur fails? When they give up? And, what about when that entrepreneur, who didn’t look far enough ahead, or didn’t dive deep enough into the thoughts, needs, and desires of their customer, themselves gets disrupted too?
Where do entrepreneurs go to die?
“Life after entrepreneurship… that’s something I think about all the time and something I was just discussing at London Fintech Week,” Cynthia Huang told me.
“So if it fails, you basically feel like a failure because you are your company.”
“So if that does happen, what’s the process you take to pick yourself back up and build yourself back into a person again, without having a company or business to identify yourself with?”
It’s a question I ponder, too.
If I start again, what will people think of me? Will they forgive me again, if I fail? How many times am I allowed to fail and still be forgiven? Will it ruin my reputation? Will I ever be trusted again?
Is my reputation already in shreds?
According to CB Insights, 42% of businesses fail because there is no market need.
So someone had a cool idea. They thought being cool would make it a profitable business.
It was cool. It really was. But the market didn’t need it. Or know they need it.
It’s a mistake a lot of blockchain startups have made.
Don’t be surprised when I ask you what are you willing to suffer for, and where your values are. If we really want to improve the future, just the technology will not solve the problems that human greed, irresponsibility, and “technology in the wrong hands” created.Roxana Nasoi, Blockchain Community Leader, Linkedin
Just because a part of human experience can be made more efficient, more delightful, less harmful, doesn’t mean potential customers know or want it yet.
Your job will be to communicate it. And to convince.
Do you have the marketing budget to do this? How long are you willing to wait for your ideal customer to catch up in awareness and interest?
Will you still be alive when they do?
1000 years from now will be just as different as life is now compared to when William the Great sanctioned the world’s first national parks as hunting grounds in England.
The world didn’t know it needed national parks 1000 years ago. William did and had his reputation attacked for it – the populace thought he was selfish for wanting the land to himself. 1000 years later, we know that we need conservation, and as consumers we value it. But back then, people wanted the firewood and farmland.
What if you’re an entrepreneur who can see what the world needs 1000 years from now into the future even if the world can’t see it yet?
Can you wait? You can’t conquer the world anymore with weapons alone — can you wait for the world to catch up?
As entrepreneurs, we have to be real. And we have to be in the present.
Customers won’t be willing to pay for what they don’t know they need. And you may go bankrupt trying to convince them. That’s the difference between aspirational charities and profitable companies.
(For an insight into the customer of the future read my exploration in Imagining the World in 2120 — a Vision for the Future: Exploring how our grandchildren will live, love, work, play, learn and shop.)
When Entrepreneurs fund their business with their personal savings, profit, and business loans, the stakes are even higher.
And yet the world depends on us to walk this tightwire with a pit of lions beneath us and take this risk. Because that’s the principle of the first mover’s advantage when you get it right. Calculated anticipation – MVPs take time to build.
But if we are the hare and think too far ahead of the customer, the tortoise — the second mover — wins. Maybe it’s always better to be the tortoise.
Tesla wasn’t the first electric car.
Perhaps, as entrepreneurs, all we want is the freedom to try.
“As tough as being a founder is, I think most founders realize how fortunate we are to be able to have the opportunity to work on what we want, to be able to struggle, grow and do things that most people in life never get to experience.
“I have pushed myself and had amazing opportunities (such as speaking at London Fintech Week, being interviewed for articles, publishing articles on well-known crypto news sites, etc) that I never would have had otherwise. Your life as a founder is so different from normal life and I really think that’s a privilege.”
Around 500 million people are entrepreneurs. They don’t want to work for someone else. They want their own mission. They want to provide the world with something better than what exists. They want to improve the world one product, service, experience at a time.
More than 35% of entrepreneurs work 40 hours per week. This includes weekends as 17.7% say they work every weekend. About 31% of entrepreneurs work 50 hours per week and 11.8% work 60 hours per week.
This smells to me like burnout. This smells to me like desperation. This smells to me like an addiction. Or is it a necessary evil in a global revolution?
I have to quote John Gatto here:
“Modern, industrialized, compulsory schooling was to make a sort of surgical incision into the prospective unity of these underclasses. Divide children by subject, by age-grading, by constant rankings on tests, and by many other more subtle means, and it was unlikely that the ignorant mass of mankind, separated in childhood, would ever re-integrate into a dangerous whole….
“There were vast fortunes to be made, after all, in an economy based on mass production and organized to favor the large corporation rather than the small business or the family farm. But mass production required mass consumption, and at the turn of the twentieth century most Americans considered it both unnatural and unwise to buy things they didn’t actually need. Mandatory schooling was a godsend on that count. School didn’t have to train kids in any direct sense to think they should consume nonstop, because it did something even better: it encouraged them not to think at all.”
We have 100 years of truncation of the global human spirit to undo, as our ability to make, dream and prosper on our own terms was taken away maliciously for generations.
We will have to claw it back for our children.
As a generation, we have a lot at stake. For the first time in decades, the scales may be on our side.
Centralized governments and corporations are breathing down our necks like incensed T-Rex dinosaurs who come alive in Museums at night. They consume the data we produce every time we do anything on, or off, line. And it makes them grow bigger.
We as people had a not-so-secret weapon that allowed the mass sharing, learning, blooming and blossoming of the entrepreneurial and business skills dormant since our great grandparents’ time — the information highway of the Internet.
We took the steering wheel into our own hands.
The future is not laid out on a track. It is something that we can decide, and to the extent that we do not violate any known laws of the universe, we can probably make it work the way that we want to. — Alan Kay.
I asked Cynthia if she was scared of failure.
“Scared of failure — yes. Terrified I would say even. It’s something that stares you down every day. But in a way, and maybe I shouldn’t be saying this, but failure would also be almost a welcome respite sometimes from the uncertainty and doubt of everyday life as a founder. It’s a bit like waiting for the other shoe to drop. When it finally does, at least you can stop wondering. That’s not to say that’s what I would wish or want (obviously) but that even in failure, there is at least closure.”
“And one of the worst things about failure is that then you can’t prove all your doubters wrong. Whether it’s friends, family, strangers, VCs, whoever has ever doubted you, I think there’s a part of every founder that wants to prove those people wrong.”
And there’s a lot to prove the world wrong about.
Maybe I can’t be an Elon Musk, a Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Sara Blakely, Bezos or Branson. Sometimes, entrepreneurs are more like a Tesla (the inventor, not the car) — before their time.
But what if I can be present “in-the-moment” — or “in the room” as comedians coin it — and solve one problem for humanity at a time, as we need it and know we need it.
I think that’s almost the ultimate superpower skill any entrepreneur can master — staying present in the moment.
Asking, What does the customer need now, and why? And then using that successful product-market fit to bunny hop to the next successful product launch, and the next. It’s knowing what product to release, when — not only because there is a need, but because customers are ready, just begging, to pay for it.
The blossoming of the entrepreneur has to be matched to the blossoming of the customer.
It becomes a dance. Who is leading? The entrepreneur, or the customer?
The top five countries to be an entrepreneur are United States, Switzerland, Canada, United Kingdom & Australia based on the mix of attitudes, resources, and infrastructure known as the entrepreneurship ‘ecosystem’.
As new technologies evolve they trigger new forms of friction — the man with a hammer needs a belt to carry it in — so there will always be opportunities for transformation that an entrepreneur can use to build their first product on — i.e. think how app entrepreneurs there are now because of the iPhone.
The rapidity of society’s changing needs will determine how many new startups there will be. Or, maybe in 200 years’ time the dominant companies will still be Facebook, Google, Amazon — if these companies successfully harness the data they are accruing to anticipate and steer every customer need in an entrepreneur-customer dance matrix that is more like a puppet on a string than a waltz between romantic partners.
Our values drive our desires. Values are changing. Will I pay for something tomorrow that I wouldn’t pay for today?
The role of the entrepreneur is to anticipate this trend and survive it as the customer swarms us like sharks and tears us limb from limb trying to get what they need from us — which is, ultimately, their sense of who they are, and what they can be that was taken from them in childhood — whilst giving us as little time and money as they can.
We have to feel into the values of the world, and how the world wants those values to be fed. We bring the basket that turns into 1000 fishes.
And the dance of identity continues. Entrepreneur — I am. And what is an entrepreneur? A person who gives back another person’s I AM.
And as each I AM awakens, it awakens another entrepreneur — another person empowered to solve a problem, overcome a challenge, share a new experience or skill.
Am I a mother, or am I an entrepreneur? And is an entrepreneur also a kind of parent? A parent of a new kind of people, a new technologically powered, inspired and awakened world?
This is why there will always be another entrepreneur. It’s not just a cultural badge of honor. It’s a gift that we give — the experience of someone who doesn’t just apathetically accept the status quo but leaps with the conviction to combine dreams with action.
A million dreams of the world we’re gonna make.
Most creativity is a transition from one context into another where things are more surprising. There’s an element of surprise, and especially in science, there is often laughter that goes along with the “Aha.” Art also has this element. Our job is to remind us that there are more contexts than the one that we’re in — the one that we think is reality. — Alan Kay
To learn more about Akasha and her agency please visit her website strategygoto.com and sign up for a free consultation.
To learn about Cynthia’s Altcoin Fantasy experiential crypto learning platform, please visit www.altcoinfantasy.com