Entrepreneurship Is Not Sexy

Posted on June 19, 2009
Filed Under Business |

The critical ingredient is getting off your butt and doing something. It’s as simple as that. A lot of people have ideas, but there are few who decide to do something about them now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. But today. The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer.” - Nolan Bushnell

Entrepreneurs are the celebrities of the business world. The business media loves to profile Mark Zuckerberg, Kevin Rose, Evan Williams, and others the way the regular media stalks Brad Pitt and Lindsay Lohan. It is a profitable media formula because most people have the dream - the dream to work for themselves and also make few million dollars in the process. But, it’s a myth.

I know a lot of people who want to be entrepreneurs. Even people who will never take the plunge will tell me that they wish they had the composure to do it. From the outside looking in, it seems so sexy. But is isn’t.

Last Friday I was in Boston to visit David Friend, CEO of Carbonite (a six time software entrepreneur) and Dharmesh Shah, who is one of the investors in LifestreamBackup. I traveled with another entrepreneur friend of mine, and we stayed with his entrepreneurial friend who just had a major exit. During the weekend, I heard multiple stories of startups. There stories weren’t just about any startups, but successful ones. None of the stories were sexy.

Most of the people involved never intended to be entrepreneurs, it just sort of happened. They didn’t start with a grand idea, a patent, or even funding in many cases. Some of the businesses were in competitive spaces that you would have thought they were nuts to go into. Time after time after time, the story was not sexy. It was about grinding it out. It was a story of will. It was a story of perseverance. It was a story of doing tasks that, from the outside looking in, would seem boring, dry, and monotonous. Every single one of these stories followed that same story line.

I thought about that as I was planning my weekend, which will mostly be spent reading about landing page optimization and analytics. We have received lots of congratulations on the launch of Lifestreambackup, great feedback on the product, and have signed up quite a few early adopters. In some ways, it seems like we are pretty far along, but the truth is that we are just beginning. The strategy sessions, the product development brainstorming sessions, the planning… it was all a lot of fun. But that doesn’t build any business value. The business value comes when you take it to the customer and you get paid for providing a valuable product or service. The grind-out starts now, and it won’t be sexy. It will be tiring. The thing about being an entrepreneur though, is that for some sick and twisted reason, you like that part. Pouring through data, pitching your product, building partnerships, all the stuff that seems like boring work from the outside is actually pretty enjoyable in the right context.

The web has been a bad thing for entrepreneurs because too many people believe they can just build something and “throw it out there.” That somehow, magically, people come and then even if you don’t have a revenue model Google buys you because you had a cool idea. No one would ever say “let’s just build the hotel… put it out there and see what happens.” No one would ever say something like that about any non-web business. Web startups shouldn’t be any different.

Too many entrepreneurs stop after they build the product. They think that building products is what makes them an entrepreneur. But entrepreneurship is about building businesses, and the product is just one part of that.

People often tell me that they want to start their own business, they just need an idea. What they really need is to just start doing something. Entrepreneurship isn’t about wild launch parties and billion dollar IPOs before age 30. Those types of things are rare, as is most of the entrepreneurship that is portrayed in the media. Most entrepreneurs, and the stuff that they do, isn’t featured in magazines because it isn’t really sexy.

So, when you think about starting a business, don’t do it because you think it will be sexy. It probably won’t be. Instead, it will be about grinding it out for customers, constantly learning, making lots of mistakes, and some beating your head against a wall. It won’t be fast, and it won’t be easy, but in some strange way, you will probably love it.


14 Responses to “Entrepreneurship Is Not Sexy”

  1. Jesse Farmer on June 21st, 2009 9:42 pm

    Honestly, sometimes I feel like entrepreneurs are the new rock stars. The media, at least in Silicon Valley, portrays the lifestyle as ultra-glamorous.

    But Rock Stars, like entrepreneurs, aren’t born over night. Well, ok, maybe unless you’re the Jonas Brothers.

    Instead, it’s a group of friends who hang out in a basement or garage and practice day-in, day-out for months and years. They do gigs relentlessly, working their butts off to move up the ladder.

    And then finally! it comes, they get a record contract (VC money?). They’re set! Well, until they read the fine print and realize the record company owns their asses.

    But at least it’s glamorous, right?

  2. Juan Saldivar on June 21st, 2009 10:31 pm

    Everyone loves success stories, we live in this kind of world. I think most successful entrepreneurs you mention were just plain lucky. Some of them gain momentum and I doubt some of them will replicate their success at a difference circumstance starting from scratch.

    Real entrepreneurs are those creating their own luck, if they start bootstrapping. Those are the ones to model after, the other ones that are the lucky ones like Rose, Zuckerberg, etc, are just plain lottery ticket winners.

    This are my two cents.

  3. Nadia Nassif on June 21st, 2009 10:41 pm


    Thank you for sharing this article- I can resonate with much of what was stated. Somehow, folks get the notion that because you’re an “entrepreneur” you’re somehow immediately rich or close. This is pretty far from the truth.

    Before I started Springboards, I recognized a need, knew I met it well and could meet it better independently. But product development and refining the client service model is an ever evolving process- if it ever stopped, my company would cease to truly meet needs and would be just like everything else out there. Without continuing research, building, learning, and networking, Springboards would cease to be exciting and valuable. It’s one thing to provide value, and another to provide the value with passion, relevancy, and progressive material.

    The super late nights may never end, but being part of creating and building something that changes people is such an awesome privilege. I wouldn’t change it for anything.

    Nadia Nassif
    Springboards Language Training and Consulting, LLC

  4. Jon hodge on June 21st, 2009 11:03 pm

    I’m not sexy???? LOL! Great article. Thanks for writing it!

  5. Hendro on June 21st, 2009 11:07 pm

    I totally agree with you here. People only get to see the sunny part of it most of the time. And, skip the reality.

    I remember having few non-geek friends spoke to me once, “people like Evan Williams etc, are so lucky”. And, i have to tell them that they have no idea how much people like them have been persevered all along. They’re sure are lucky, but, they have been a persistent-and-kicking-ass-doer long before they make it huge (remind me of reading Evan’s story in F@W).

    For me, entrepreneurship is just a lifestyle. Either you love it, or you don’t.

    Anw, nice blog. Keep going! Good luck with Lifestream Backup!

  6. Adam Wride on June 22nd, 2009 2:52 am

    “Too many entrepreneurs stop after they build the product.”

    So true so true.

    In my experience the most harrowing part is that you can’t control what happens next.

  7. Vincent Chan on June 22nd, 2009 10:52 am

    Great post. I wish you all the best on Lifestreambackup.

    I think media and PR always give us a wrong impression of entrepreneurship. Many entrepreneurs give up because they forget every business in the world started small. They stop because they find the reality is different from the story in the media.

    Thanks for reminding us the other side of the story.

    Below is a related podcast talking about the myth of the Digg’s founding story. Another PR lie by the media.


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  10. hallicious » Thought Evolution on June 24th, 2009 3:48 am

    [...] in the towel, I’m choosing to evolve my thinking, explore what the market is telling me, and grind it out. What do you think? Do I have the right approach, or should I stop wasting my time with [...]

  11. Frank on June 24th, 2009 11:23 am

    thank you for this great post. i’m currently facing the reality of the non-sexy part of business building contrary to what i used to believe as a naive idealist 2 years back. however, i’ve just made the decision to grind it out, and thanks to your post i believe i just made a decision that is very much necessary. thank you!

  12. Max Guerra on June 24th, 2009 7:52 pm

    Very good article. I myself founded three different companies and is not as sexy as people think. People think starting a business as some sort of “romantic idealism” when is not. Most of the time you don’t even make more money than your top employees. Being an entrepreneur is a tough job that I would do all over again If I could. Max.

  13. TR @ WSB on June 25th, 2009 7:34 am

    So brilliant - the start of your second-to-last paragraph - I added it to the quotes on our “about” page. My husband and I are accidental entrepreneurs, accidentally turning a classic “blog” into our city’s first financially successful neighborhood-news website. We are often contacted by people who think they want to do what we do (but didn’t set out to do). We have heard people talk about doing something, and talk, and talk, and talk, but never JUST DO IT. That is our main advice: Don’t sit around and make plans and dither and worry and fret and wonder. If you really want to do this, JUST DO IT and see how you feel about doing it and take it from there. Then there are the people who say we must be crazy because who would ever want to buy a business like ours with two people “grinding” out a product that is unique to its area, etc. … and we say, um, we’re not doing this in hopes that someone will buy it … So many myths about entrepreneurship. But you’re right, ultimately, it’s a blast. If you can gut it out!!!!

  14. Scott Porad on June 25th, 2009 2:58 pm

    Great post!

    The notion of an entrepreneur as a doer, not a dreamer resonates with me. I got frustrated when my startup became less about doing…I wrote about that here: http://scottporad.com/2009/05/06/startupcorporate/.

    The other part of the post that resonates is how being an entrepreneur is more than just creating the product. I have a friend who is creating great products all the time, but never actually turning them into businesses; he’s a developer, so after he writes the code he doesn’t do the activities needed to distribute the product into the marketplace.

    I don’t know if it’s fear or what…mainly I think it’s lack of know-how and motivation. In other words, as a developer, writing the code is fun, but marketing the product is work.

  • About Rob

    Rob is co-founder of Backupify.com. He likes value investing, the Rolling Stones, college basketball, artificial intelligence, economic history and people who think independently.