You’re Not an Entrepreneur

I am officially taking the word “entrepreneur” away from you.

In the sublime and ever-so-fitting phrasing of Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Over the past few years, more than a few of you have irresponsibly commandeered the term “entrepreneur” and used it in wholly inappropriate situations. It’s as though you’re afraid to say something simple, such as “I’m working on an idea,” or “I’ve got a side project,” instead announcing to the world, “I’m an entrepreneur!”

Making a sandwich does not make you a chef. Babysitting does not make you a parent. Changing your girlfriend’s oil does not make you a mechanic.

If you have no capital, no employees, and no product, but you DO have another job working for someone else (or if you’re a full-time college student), you’re not an entrepreneur.

I’ve worked for entrepreneurs quite a bit over the past 12 years. They’re hustlers, jugglers, madmen, egomaniacs, people who desperately attempt to build empires on little money and less time. I would never want to be one, but if you want to, more power to you. But here’s the thing: Those entrepreneurs go through hell to do what they do. You can’t take their title and apply it to yourself just because you want to belong to that club.

Jean-Baptiste Say is the French economist who is credited with creating this poor, abused word a couple hundred years ago. According to Say, an entrepreneur is “one who undertakes an enterprise… acting as intermediary between capital and labor.”

“Undertakes an enterprise.” That’s setting yourself up as the performer of the task at hand, a.k.a. running a business. “Acting as an intermediary between capital and labour.” That means you took someone’s money — generally, startup money in a round of funding, something significant enough to have to report to the government — and you’re using that money to build a product with other people. You’re not the capital per se, and you’re not the labor per se; the entrepreneur is the idea-man and the intermediary.

Let’s do a couple lists. People like lists.

Things that, in some combination, qualify as “enterprise, capital, and labor” and make you an entrepreneur:

  • You have a legally recognized company with a name and maybe an office.
  • You have a staff.
  • Someone (customers or VCs/angels) gave you money for your idea (or you’re actively trying to get money from customers/angles/VCs).
  • You have a business plan. Written down. With honest-to-god numbers on it.
  • You have or are actively building a product that others will use.
  • You are assuming a huge risk (financial, career, personal if you’re employing or taking money from friends or family) and are ultimately solely responsible for the success or failure of your business.

Things that are cool but that don’t necessarily, in and of themselves make you an entrepreneur:

  • You work a lot.
  • You take risks.
  • You have an idea.
  • You’re not employed by someone else (or you’re underemployed).
  • You’re tinkering with a project when you have time for it.
  • You advise or give money to people with businesses of their own.
  • You have connections and influence in your market.
  • You drew up articles of incorporation or have an LLP/LLC.
  • You have a website.
  • You have an app.
  • You have a business card that says you’re the CEO/founder.
  • You want to be an entrepreneur.

Let me make it perfectly clear: There is nothing wrong with having an idea, working on a side project, or wanting to be an entrepreneur.

There is something wrong for posing as something you’re not.

If you’re not an entrepreneur, you might be:

  • Designing a new product.
  • Developing a new idea.
  • Looking for funding.
  • Looking for a partner/co-founder/developer/CEO.
  • Working on an app.
  • Working on a side project.
    • All of these things are awesome, and they’re the first step on the path to becoming an entrepreneur.

      If you’ve been calling yourself an entrepreneur and are offended by this post because you don’t meet my (or some French economist’s) definition of an entrepreneur, don’t get pissy with me (or the French economist). It’s a complete waste of time.

      Get back on the path, keep working on your ideas and projects, get funding, quit your day job, and be an entrepreneur.

      I wish you the best of success and look forward to hearing about your company and products.

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