So I've been thinking about this ever since I read "Six Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting a Business" (Inc., July 2009). I read it recently, my reading is somewhat randomly as I'm way behind and the stacks keep moving around.
Anyhow, even without reading the explanation for each question, one in particular stood out to me. I really enjoy reading Fast Company and Inc. Magazine, but then I often think to myself... why have I not yet started my own business? I've had a number of decent ideas over the years, and once for a few years I was really fixated on one idea. After deciding I wouldn't be able to do it on my own (I had the ideas, but not the chops), I even emailed it to the Digital City group at MIT. If they don't do it, someone else will, I think it's a really interesting idea -- using cameras mounted on vehicles that regularly cover the same ground (buses, police cars, fire engines, etc.) to look for things out of place. That could be graffiti, a car that had been parked too long where it shouldn't be, a knocked over newspaper vending machine, people fighting, etc. The idea that you could use intelligent camera software to help a city with regular mundane tasks by looking for variances from the norm, testing multiple times with different passes, comparing against the known, and then alerting potential issues to a human who could review the footage and then dispatch a tow truck, graffiti-eradication crew or animal control officer as needed.
Anyhow, so the question in the article was "Are you an entrepreneur or an inventor?" Bingo.
Right away, I knew. I'm an inventor. An inventor comes up with ideas. Maybe they test them out, or maybe they just draw them. (Someone last week unveiled a human-powered helicopter they had built - centuries after Da Vinci drew them.) The inventor's ideas are a mix of good ideas and bad ideas. Someone comes alongside the inventor who helps make the determination if they're good or bad -- and these days, whether they are economically viable. And if so, the inventor makes some money licensing or selling the idea and it's on someone else to make the business case.
I realized that is so me. An entrepreneur assumes a lot of risk. I'm pretty risk-averse. My dad's started several businesses in his life, most notably an office supply company and a bank and at other times owned real estate, including a strip mall and some office buildings. All had risk (though, with the exception of the one building that kept getting run into, the real estate was probably a safer bet, something more along my lines of acceptable risk.) In order to be an entrepreneur, you have to be willing to accept risk. And when you have a family, that risk extends to them. And when your business grows and you have to hire employees beyond your founders, your risk grows to surround them as well. And then if you sell stock to raise money, first to your family, that involves an even greater part of your family.
My dad's made some good bets, but it hasn't been easy and there have been some setbacks. But I'm too timid to even consider starting my own business (though I would like to own real estate). But that's always bugged me... I like my job, but shouldn't I be out there taking control of my destiny and starting something? I"m smart, I have good ideas, I ought to be able to make a fortune.
But no, it's safer in the boat. And now that I understand a little better who I am, it's easy to just being comfortable in the boat, but to realizing that's where I belong.
So.. time to invent some new stuff to make that boat even better.