Entrepreneur – Or Entrepreneurial Seizure?

More often than not ‘entrepreneur’ is used to describe both a passing phase of ‘start up’ and a lasting role of ‘business management and development’.    The two roles overlap to some degree but demand different dispositions and skills.

In the start up phase the entrepreneur is frequently working alone developing a personal vision and finding ways to make it work, in theory.  They are finding investors and developing plans.  They are researching and shaping their still very malleable ideas until finally they have something on paper that ‘works’.  They talk with advisers and potential customers.  But the business is just an idea.  It is not yet a demanding child; a long term commitment.

Sooner rather than later the infant business develops different needs; sales, management (especially financial management) and systems.  The emphasis shifts from the energy and drive of start up to a different vibe of business development.  Energy and drive are still required but so too is discipline and routine.  The business is no longer on paper where numbers can be changed at the stroke of a key.  It is now a real thing where to ‘change a number’ takes real work and often hard cash.  And the business is there, demanding, all day and every day.

Instead of a single person driving a personal vision it now may require teamwork and people management.  The entrepreneur has to morph into a cocktail that includes some or all of; sales, management, bookkeeper, product/service development, operations management and leadership.  A very few make this transition with relish. But for most it proves difficult.

Many entrepreneurs learn to move on with grace.  The passion, skills and energy that help them bring the businesses into life are not well suited to the more methodical and disciplined demands of business development.  Having been responsible for conception they leave the parenting to others.  They bring in professional ‘management’  while they move on.  This IS the entrepreneur.

But for the majority, who are venturing into entrepreneurship for the first time, this early exit to business ownership is not seriously considered.  The business is set up from the start as a vehicle in which the ‘entrepreneur’ can pursue their trade (social media guru, web designer, window cleaner, whatever).  There is no exit.  They have had what Gerber calls the ‘entrepreneurial seizure’.

Gerber recognised that most people who choose to start a business aren’t really ‘entrepreneurs’ as described above. Instead, they are technicians, craftsmen or artisans who have had what he called “an entrepreneurial seizure“. They have become fed-up with their boss, disillusioned by their employer, made redundant, or increasingly have never been employed and decide to start out on their own ‘Enterprise Fairytale’.

This is the entrepreneurial seizure, and critical decisions must now be taken.  Get them right and the transition to ‘entrepreneur’, and ‘business owner’ may be made.  Get them wrong and the entrepreneurial seizure may be prolonged, expensive and painful.  Society may still label you ‘an entrepreneur’ but you will be both boss and labourer, technician, craftsman or artisan.  What once felt like tremendous progress may soon turn into a trap.

If you learn your entrepreneurial skills at one of the worlds leading business schools you will be taught the skills of starting and owning a business.  You will be taught to avoid the entrepreneurial seizure.  If you learn your entrepreneurial skills in more prosaic settings this lesson may not be taught.  Indeed the working assumption may be that helping you into an entrepreneurial seizure  could be as good as it gets.

It might be perfect for you – but it is not really entrepreneurship.

And when the policy makers lament our ability in the UK to start businesses that consistently achieve global scale, I believe it is because we trap so many of our ‘could be’ entrepreneurs in their own entrepreneurial seizures.

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