Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Difference Between An Entrepreneur And A Small Business Owner

When I was a kid growing up in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s I would sometimes ask my dad what he did for a living.  And each time he would reply the same.  “I’m an entrepreneur,” he would say proudly.  “Look it up.”  So I did.  The dictionary defined an entrepreneur as “a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.”  My dad was right – he was an entrepreneur.  And a lousy one at that.

He raised money from investors and for years worked out of his home (and this was before working from one’s home was acceptable) where he supervised a handful of misfit and quirky programmers who worked odd hours developing a bookkeeping application based on a patent he held in his name.  Until the money ran out.  And when that happened he took his unfinished product to market where he suffered painful project after painful project.  And (of course) he timed his product launch perfectly with Intuit’s latest iteration of QuickBooks, which was infinitely better, faster, more reliable and cheaper than his.

I know this firsthand because in 1994 I left my job, formed my own company, and partnered with him.  For six years I also struggled to sell and implement his terrible, incomplete and poorly designed bookkeeping software.  Mercifully, the year 2000 “bug” took us both out of our misery, rendering the software unworkable.  Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.  We were forced to change directions and resell software products made by other companies.  Since then I’ve managed to do what my father was never able to accomplish:  earn a profit.

“I’m an entrepreneur,” my dad would keep telling me.  OK.  My dad was an entrepreneur.  Just not a very good one.  I learned from that.  My company has grown to ten people.