The Fetishization of Entrepreneurship


It's spring, which means the thoughts of VCs turn lightly to thoughts of demo days. Many accelerators have their demo days in March. If you haven't been to one, these are celebrations of entrepreneurship; 21st century business theater. Meeting many, many companies and founders in a concentrated period produces the following reflection.

Over the last decade or so, the global rise of investors across the entire early stage spectrum, from angels to super angels to incubators to accelerators to pre-seed funds to seed funds to we-do-anything funds has made entrepreneurship appear to be something it has never been in human history: a reasonable choice as a career. 

It has always been the case that the failure rate of startups is high. What is different now is that the increased availability of capital at the early stage prolongs the agony. This has a pernicious effect, and is the most damaging for young founders. Young founders can see years go by and find themselves stuck in a cul-de-sac with no obvious on ramp back to a fruitful and rewarding career.

For almost everyone, the old truths still hold -- find a real job, learn the basics of business (or your trade, such as programming or medicine), learn how the world works, find mentors. Jumping into entrepreneurship soon after college dramatically reduces option value; you are taking on life risk. Building a foundation, on the other hand, allows you to take entrepreneurial risk from a position of much greater strength (and gives you a fallback option).

The challenge with articulating this logic is that the exceptions are staggering -- Microsoft and Facebook come very naturally to mind. But these are incredibly rare exceptions. They are not role models for anything. For the vast majority of young founders, entrepreneurship is *not* a reasonable choice of career. This has been obscured by the celebration of founders and the ideology of "starting something" in modern business culture.

The fetishization of entrepreneurship is not going to stop anytime soon, if ever. But perhaps a would-be founder reads this and chooses a different, more boring, path (at least for a few years). This festival of funding is channeling many of humanity's best and brightest into dead ends.

P.S. There is a near-identical essay to be written about the fetishization of venture capital; one of these days I'll ask a friendly founder or fund investor to write it as a guest post.