Are You An Entrepreneur Or A Business Owner?

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There is a huge chasm between being an Entrepreneur and being a business owner?

An Entrepreneur is more than someone with an idea. An Entrepreneur is more than someone with an ability to take that idea and execute on it. An Entrepreneur is much more than an individual who is willing and able to secure the funding and resources to make their idea happen. A true Entrepreneur is someone who has an uncanny desire to create the future. Too many people in too many places focus on everything but that critical aspect of what it takes/means to be an Entrepreneur… and it bears repeating:

An Entrepreneur is someone who has an uncanny desire to create the future.

The best business models and the companies with the most innovation all started with an individual (or a team of people) who believed that the future success of their industry will look very different from its current state. Once everything kicks into place (funding, resources, etc…) something happens… and this is where the wheels of innovation can slow down (or come to a complete stop).

Most Entrepreneurs eventually become business owners.

Business owners think a lot less about creating the future because they are much too concerned with both mitigating risk and minimizing mistakes. There’s nothing wrong with being a business owner, but it’s an important distinction to make. The minute most Entrepreneurs have a semblance of success, their posture does change and they become/look like a business owner. It’s normal, it’s common, but it is kind of tragic. It’s understandable in one sense, because with that success comes a bigger payroll and the Entrepreneur is now financially responsible for much more than their own rent (families now count on this person to deliver). Success also breeds complacency. It’s easy to keep successfully doing what works and pull a fair wage for a fair product/service out of the world. No harm, no foul.

Perpetual entrepreneurship is hard.

You can poke fun at Steve Jobs and everything Apple does all you like, but ask yourself this: if you were a computer and software manufacturer, would you have the perpetual entrepreneurial guts to take a 180 turn and start making a phone? What about digital music players? What about the platform to sell music? What about a touch-tablet (after the failure of so many in this, exact, arena)? The amazing story of Apple (and many other brands) comes from their ability to do much more than just be business owners. It comes from their entrepreneurial spirit to innovate.

Is there a critical path or roadmap for the rest of us?

There are some common threads that are weaved through the most entrepreneurial individuals and organizations (in fact, it will be my next business book… how’s that for a tease?). For some, it will involve their ability to embrace a new business model, for others it will involve their ability to respect the business owner that they have become while still embracing their internal Entrepreneur (and letting that mindset roam free). Regardless, the future is not going to be established by the business owners of today. The future is going to be created by the entrepreneurs who have the vision, business mindset and courage to not fall into the business owner’s mindset of mitigating risk and minimizing mistakes.

What’s your take on entrepreneurs?


  1. Being an entrepreneur IS hard. We look at those who seem not to possess fear with admiration and a dash of jealousy. We view people who “just make it happen” void of the details that it took for them to do just that. None of us knows the sacrifices each of us makes. Life can get in the way along the way and derail our idea.
    Money, time, naysayers, self-doubt, hard work, stumbles, roadblocks and our own motivation are formidable foes along the way of realizing our dreams and ideas.
    I’m often reminded of Mignon McLaughlin’s quote: “Every society honors its live conformists and its dead troublemakers.”
    Being an entrepreneur can be lonely and difficult and often after some traction is realized is when supporters arrive.

  2. I certainly don’t read as much you Mitch and therefore have apparently missed most of those who poke fun at Apple and Steve Jobs. I am not sure how anyone could be taken seriously who did? You can dislike him because of his personality but you have no choice but to respect his entrepreneurship. His willingness to travel into to the “dark forests” and come out with the prize is shocking to most. Are we being “fooled by randomness”? We could be, but just like watching the kamikaze on a heater at a poker table, it is riveting to view. Luck or not, if he doesn’t return to the helm it will nigh impossible for the run to continue because as you well point out so few are willing to take that necessary gamble. You ask if there is a common thread amongst entrepreneurs and I believe there is, but I think it can only be pointed out, not taught for use.

  3. I know dozens of business owners, and fear of failure or a myopic view of what they are capable of keeps them from being entrepreneurs in my opinion. I also know even more entrepreneurs. Their honest view and acceptance of failure, creativity and innovation seems to drive them to keep moving forward, backward, sideways and any way they can to move from idea to success.
    I’m an entrepreneur, I KNOW I’m going to fail. I have in the past, and I know I will in the future. Sometimes it’s just a mis-step and sometimes it’s a grand public and financial failure that caused me to back off a bit to lick my wounds. For me, knowing failure, accepting it, and using it to learn from is *the* differentiation trait for an entrepreneur.
    The current economy has forced many people to open their own business out of need. I see so many struggling – not just from a lack of all the other skills that go into a successful business outside the core – but from a lack of desire to ‘make’ anything other than money. Entrepreneurs don’t just crave money, they crave the process.

  4. Mitch,
    I believe that the most successful entrepreneurs not only posses the uncanny desire to create the future, but also see the importance of balancing that characteristic with the concerns of the business owner “mindset”. They are also not out of touch with the actual act of doing, “the feet on the ground” mentality. Whether they accomplish this by possessing these traits in and of themselves as one person (this would be a very successful business owner), or they work to surround themselves with other single minded folks of just one focus to compliment theirs (a successful business).
    The pure entrepreneurial spirit in one person or team seems almost wasted without the balance of a plan of execution and forethought for how the idea actually gets “manufactured” so to speak.
    I totally agree, the future will NOT be shaped by the business owner of today. Nor will it be shaped by the entrepreneur of today. I think it will indeed be shaped by those who posses the balance that both you and I referred to here.
    Great post, thanks for getting the Sunday juices flowing.

  5. Hi Mitch,
    I agree with the differences you point out between a business owner and entrepreneur; however I disagree with your belief that the entrepreneurial spirit can turn into something it’s not — a business owner, LOL.
    There’s nothing “uncanny” about an entrepreneur’s ability to create the future. It’s part of the very DNA makeup of the person — the entrepreneur — that drives that ability to be one.
    There’s no such thing as an entrepreneur becoming a business owner; that person was never an entrepreneur to begin with.
    You cannot shut down the creative genius of an entrepreneur. They are continually driven by their vision for the future and building it — period, end of story.
    Try to make Steve Jobs a business owner, you might well put him in a cage — better yet, just blow his brains out with a colt 45, because you will have killed everything he is by doing so anyway.
    Being a business owner — by nature — is an impossibility for a real entrepreneur… It’s not even in the realm of reality because it’s furthest thing from what they are.

  6. Mitch,
    I’ve been slugging my way through Business Stripped Bare by Richard Branson and think he’s found a pretty good way to balance being an entrepreneur and a business owner. While in the early days, I’m sure he did it all, it looks like now he’s created a structure that allows him to focus on creativity and let others focus on turning the ideas into businesses. It’s what he’s best at.
    I find myself doing the same thing in my business these days. I’m actually digging into the day-to-day functions more so I can understand how to systemize those functions. Once that’s done I’ll have more free time to focus on sales and marketing (which is where my entrepreneurship shines).
    For me anyway the key is in finding a way to be entrepreneurial in my running of the business. I liked your iPhone example with Apple. I mean let’s be real that was a whole new business even if it stayed under the Apple brand. Just as Richard Branson’s venture into trains and aviation are legally different businesses with the Virgin brand.
    I sometimes wonder why large retail and restaurant groups don’t do a better job leveraging the parent brand like Apple and Virgin have done. Then, I remember because that’s the hard part and if it was easy everyone would be doing it 🙂
    Jim Raffel

  7. The wisest entrepreneurs reach out to other ‘troublemakers’ when we need a reminder that all is not for naught and that we aren’t crazy. 😀
    Each of us who sees what others do not spend their share of dark nights, facing their fears. Those who leave a mark on this planet are the ones who overcome them; morphing their fears into fuel. Recognizing and discerning the lessons within fear is what distinguishes the entrepreneur from the rank and file (and, to a certain extent, the business owner).

  8. I agree that entrepreneurs create the future. They see what doesn’t exist and summon the resources to manifest it. The best entrepreneurs cultivate business owners to develop alongside them. Much as a rectangle is also a square, an entrepreneur can be a square, but a business owner will never be a rectangle.
    One is innovation; the other is implementation. Great, great post. Thanks for taking the time to share it. Best, M.

  9. The chasm is in perception; an entrepreneur is an owner of their work, while a business owner is a curator of others’ work.
    Entrepreneurial spirit means (in my opinion) grasping at progress perpetually. It’s not intrinsically tied to owning a business, or being at the helm. It’s about holding the reins of your own horse.
    In the same way, business owners may BE entrepreneurs – but the perception is that they’re riding the carriage, not necessarily driving it. Owners as distanced controllers act more like navigators than like drivers.

  10. Nicely said Mitch. I would say (paraphrasing using Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why”), that when the entrepreneur loses their Why and gets caught up in the What, they become a business owner. It is a difficult dance

  11. Clarification statement: entrepreneurs start many businesses, however won’t typically find them manning the daily details of running them. They normally prefer daily or weekly snap-shot updated numbers on where the business is at… Their passion and attention is usually on growth, innovation, new projects, new opportunities and the big picture and direction of the companies they own/start.

  12. Very interesting article.
    In my opinion, two of the most overused and misused words in the English language is business and entrepreneur. The word business can cover a hobby that makes money, a job dependent upon one person with an entity wrapped around it and also an entity that actually has equity value. Only one of those are a really a “business”.
    And our society believes that being an entrepreneur requires you to take a financial risk (i.e. opening a business). But you can in fact be entrepreneurial and take other risks within the confines of someone else’s organization.
    It’s a total semantics nightmare to talk about entrepreneurship and business ownership. The key is to focus individuals on making better choices about those, with rewards that greatly outweigh the quantiative and qualitative risks that you take on when you pursue them.

  13. I kinda see the story of my own business in your words. Beginning with a dream to improve the current situation of a certain segment of business, turning it into “reality”, and – in our case – trying to balance both sides, as we have more responsabilities, especially over people we employ, but still the hunger for innovation that keeps us going.
    I don’t think there’s a set rule to keep being an entrepreneur, it mainly depends on your business niche, and sometimes you can’t really keep innovating forever.

  14. I finally found out how different these two terms actually are. Till now I’ve been using the terms interchangably and was under the impression that a small business owner was very much an entrepreneur who failed to take his business to the “next level”. It turns out I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

  15. I agree, being an entrepreneur is not settling down when things start to turn in your favour. It’s about taking risks, being adventurous, and being driving by a passion that isn’t entirely motivated by money

  16. How might this discussion shift if we focus exclusively on the new small business or sole member LLC? Those who are in the early stages of their solo career – don’t they possess courage, conviction and a creative idea, but find themselves tempered by practical measures like establishing a base and generating revenue? For them, I don’t think it’s yet a matter of finding entrepreneur/biz owner balance – too early in the process. Instead, it’s a weekly if not daily scramble back and forth between the two. Dream the dream, feed the beast. Repeat.

  17. Does the non-stop restlessness of an entrepreneur come from a deep rooted value based goal? It makes a lot of sense that once you achieve the goal you may relax or change pace. Our world now allows for us to have ever evolving goals, the perpetual entrepreneur is a viable option and I think it is very attractive to many people.
    I’m young when it comes to “business” so this is a very interesting topic to me. Still trying to determine which one I am.
    Cheers Mitch.

  18. I’m kind of late to react on this one Mitch, too busy creating my future 😉
    We’ve seen it time and again, entrepreneurs who lose their “mojo” as soon as they become “managers”. Owning the business is not as much of a problem for entrepreneurs as managing it. They need a whole new set of skills, that most of the time, they find boring. Those are the ones I work with, those are the ones that I have to make focus on their strengths. Sometimes it generates new business models, but most of the time it’s about delegating, freeing up some time for them to “create” more opportunities for the company, and to “boldly go where no (business) men have gone before!” -Kirk out 😉

  19. Interesting post. I see myself in the mirror in almost all of them. I have been pursuing the same idea full time for 22 years. I continue to make progress but the business has yet to materialize. Where does persistence fit into the entrepreneurship equation? I am 100% confident in the reality and rationality of my pursuit—as are many others.

  20. A True Entrepreneur can only ACT like a Business Owner for short stints as the daily grind of running a business is like Kryptonite to an Entrepreneur.
    It must be dealt with by others in the organization capable of handling it without damage and kept at a safe distance from the Entrepreneur.
    The key is that the Entrepreneur must know when he is in range of Kryptonite and assign those duties to others and not try to be Superman as it can damage the entire Organization.

  21. I’ve met so many entrepreneurs who consider that only ideas count, that I started to no longer enjoy the term. Now I view most entrepreneurs as smart people with big egos and a very shallow awareness of what it actually means to create a business: make a great idea come to life and turn it into a self-sustainable ecosystem which provides value for everybody involved in it.
    Look at Twitter – what they are doing today proves that they were only entrepreneurs who don’t really know what it means to create a self-sustainable business. And now they turn against the people who actually helped them come this far – third-party developers.
    Personally, I prefer people who consider themselves business owners and almost nobody does that anymore. It’s not longer cool to say it. If you are hip/on the wave, you must be an entrepreneur – not a corporate worker, not a business owner, not a freelancer, etc.
    Wish people would realize that entrepreneurship/business acumen/however you want to call it, it is about turning ideas into self-sustainable ecosystems.

  22. I think people are using overusing the words Entrepreneur and Entrepreneurship. Every fresh graduate who starts a website calls himself an entrepreneur today. I appreciate the fact that there are people like you who understand the difference and even go through the trouble of trying to share the knowledge about how entrepreneurs are different from business owners and managers. Cheers!

  23. I believe being an entrepreneur is all about being comfortable with ones abilities and strengths. It is important to take risks, yes, however one must be smart to know when to stop a certain path, and go in a different direction regardless of feelings. Always take smart risks.

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