The latest version of the Albion Report, an annual study of 1000 UK Small Business people, revealed that millennial entrepreneurs are hopelessly optimistic when it comes to their chances of succeeding in business.
Apparently 77 percent of under 35 don’t believe they require mentoring to help hone their entrepreneurial skills, and just 16 percent said they would benefit from better financial management and fewer than one-quarter said that they needed to improve on their business planning skills.
As a young-ish entrepreneur myself, I’m not sufficiently arrogant to come out and say that I don’t need to learn more skills.
In fact, I will only too-gratefully use all the help I can get.
But I do recognize myself as very much a card-carrying member of the optimism brigade, and I’m starting to wonder if it’s healthy?
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Since the Second World War, there has been a staggering amount of global prosperity created, no more plentifully than in digital entrepreneurship where companies like Facebook and Google have, in a single decade, grown to become some of the biggest companies in the world.
Those that have managed to successfully surf this tsunami of cash are generally young and staggeringly wealthy. Five of the richest people under 40 in the world are now dot com billionaires.
Their enormous success has elevated Mark Zuckerberg and the almost-as-successful Zuckerbergites to a pantheon of business success that a huge tribe of young people are now attempting to emulate. If you’ll excuse using a piece of zeitgeist terminology to explain the zeitgeist itself, entrepreneurship is trending.
What us digital entrepreneurs tend to ignore is although the Internet has opened up a massive new marketplace, it’s also hugely brought down the barriers to entry. The fact that you can set up a business with an idea, a laptop and a wifi connection means a heck of a lot of people are doing it: 581,000 companies were founded in the UK alone in 2014 according to Companies House. That’s one every minute. The vast majority of those new businesses are one-person companies who are doomed to failure (at least in terms of getting rich).
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Of those 581,000 new companies, I’d make an educated guess that about 580,999 of them are, just like me, optimistic that they will succeed. Our optimism is fuelled and ironically profited on, by a growing business of entrepreneurship hyperbole.
With TV shows like The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den, books like the 4 Hour Work Week, magazines like Entrepreneur and Inc, and hundreds of podcasts advising on how your first million is just around the corner, we are willingly bombarded with tales of success and quick-fix solutions to how we can be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Larry Page if only we employ the latest marketing technique or use a better kind of software.
To me, it’s becoming reminiscent of how women’s magazines promise their readers that they too can look exactly like Rihanna or Cara Delevingne if only they drink nothing but wheatgrass blended with Coco Pops for 8 months.
But just as the celebrity diets are doomed to fail for women who are unsupported by a team of dieticians and personal trainers, and whose careers don’t depend on their body shape, an entrepreneurial blueprint for success outlined in a 20 minute podcast (that probably took 10 years of hard work to refine and a unique skill set to bring to life), won’t work for most entrepreneurs.
Simple economics flies in the face of this new narrative that everyone can succeed if only they put their mind to it. Admittedly turbo-charging the optimism of the younger generation of entrepreneurs is going to lead to a few people becoming terrifically wealthy, and is going to bring some fantastic ideas to life. But is it also going to waste a disproportionate amount of the millennial generation’s time?
There’s a growing concern that the thousands of bedroom entrepreneurs are starving genuinely growing companies of the bright, motivated staff that would have propelled them to greater heights, and is skewing our economy towards an over-reliance on a smaller amount of larger businesses – not good news if you’re interested in rebalancing the dynamic of corporations vs. the state.
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But just as we are unlikely to see plus-size models regularly on the cover of Grazia or Cosmo, even if a balancing, sobering narrative of entrepreneurs who have given up on their businesses was actively presented to us, it’s extremely likely that we would choose to ignore it in favor of the more glamorous tales of success.
Four years of the ups and downs of entrepreneurship haven’t robbed me of hope. But they have taught me enough to warn you that the next time you are tempted to buy a business self-help book remember why it’s priced at $15 and an MBA costs $25,000.