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Saul Kaplan: Start More Stuff!

Friday, February 13, 2015

 

Institutional America has knocked the start out of us. We need to get back to being great at starting things in our country. Calling all entrepreneurs. This means you. Yes, you. In talking with some of the most entrepreneurial people on the planet I am surprised by how many don’t think of themselves as entrepreneurs. When did that happen? Our economic history is all about starting stuff but we have gotten away from our entrepreneurial heritage. We need a national entrepreneurship movement. Maybe if we started by enabling more people to be entrepreneurial we would have more entrepreneurs.

When did we reserve the entrepreneur moniker solely for technology ventures started by iconic college dropouts like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg? I know we all love a good company origin story but by elevating these stories to mythical proportions aren’t we placing entrepreneurship out of reach for the rest of us mere mortals.

It has never been easier to be an entrepreneur. Capabilities once accessible only to a few large organizations with deep pockets are now within reach of everyone, organizations and individuals alike. Think about it, five years ago it was inconceivable for an individual or start up to access marketing and distribution channels, back office communication and transaction infrastructure, and a global network of potential collaborators and customers. Now these capabilities and many more are waiting in the cloud at little to no cost. Barriers to entry are so Industrial Era!

Sometimes you have to be hit right between the eyes by a two-by-four before something hits home. It was a during a recent visit home by our 25 year old daughter, Alyssa, that I realized just how easy entrepreneurship has become. In a casual conversation my daughter mentioned to me that she had taken up a new hobby. “Dad, I’m learning how to make jewelry. I signed up at a local co-op where I can take classes, access materials and tools, and even borrow them to work at home. I like making things.” I can’t remember exactly how I responded but I’m sure it came across as a perfunctory pat on the back and fatherly “that’s nice!” I didn’t pay much attention.

About fifteen minutes later a loud Cha-Ching emanates from Alyssa’s cell phone and I see her smile, one of those great big Cheshire Cat smiles. She proudly announces that she has sold her first piece of jewelry. Now she has my attention. “What do you mean? You just told me you were taking up a new hobby.” She quickly responds “Yes, but I want to know if the jewelry I make has value to anyone other than me. So I’m selling it!” Before I can ask the next question the Cha-Ching sound happens again, and again, and over the course of her visit home about ten times.

So now my worst strategy consultant side comes out and I start asking her twenty questions. You know the drill. How are you selling them? At what price? How much does it cost to make each piece? How much time does it take to make each piece? How will you get paid for them? What happens if you get a lot of orders? And of course the question any parent would ask: you aren’t planning to quit your day job are you!

At first she answers my questions patiently. “It’s easy Dad, I just set up an Etsy account for my new company, Luna Azelea. (What, your company has a name already!) Payments are processed through PayPal right on the site and it also lets me print out shipping labels. I’m experimenting with pricing and different designs and materials. I have a built in audience to market to through my social media networks.” As I continue my inquisition Alyssa interrupts saying, “stop with the MBA questions Dad, you’re sucking the fun out of it! I just enjoy making the jewelry and trying to sell it. And no, I’m not planning on quitting my day job, for now!”

I share our daughter’s story (100 pieces now sold but who’s counting!) not because I’m proud of her (I am), and not to get you to shop at Luna Azelea (I hope you do), but because for me it represents what we need a lot more of, entrepreneurship. We can all be entrepreneurs. It doesn’t mean we all have to start companies. It means we can all be more entrepreneurial. In an economy that seems incapable of producing enough good wage jobs and career ladders it might come in handy to have more people capable of creating their own jobs. Maybe we should start in school with our youth enabling a future entrepreneurial workforce.

Our national narrative places entrepreneurship out of reach for far too many of us at a time when it’s easier than ever to be an entrepreneur.The U.S. was founded on a culture of starting stuff and we must get back to our entrepreneurial roots. Our economic future is an era of entrepreneurship. Calling all entrepreneurs. Let’s start more stuff.

Saul Kaplan is the Founder and Chief Catalyst of the Business Innovation Factory (BIF). Saul shares innovation musings on his blog at It’s Saul Connected and on Twitter at @skap5.

 

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