Why are us British so afraid of calling ourselves entrepreneurs?
During the week I was fortunate enough to be asked to speak on the Young Tech Talent panel at Guardian News event, activate 2013. A yearly summit of the best of the tech industry, and this year included speakers such as Vint Cerf (co-founder of Google), Danae Ringelmann (founder of indiegogo) and loads more.
The night before, some of the speakers had been asked along to a networking event, where I met Director of Government Innovation and open data, Paul Maltby (who works in the cabinet office, aka next to No.10, cue me asking if his life was like In the thick of it). We chatted for a while with me not really ‘getting’ what he did, I have to admit I’d never heard of the term open data but I have a better understanding now. When I explained what I did, Paul said, ‘Oh! So how does it feel to be an entrepreneur?’
What a question. I was a bit stumped. Umm, er…. how does it feel? Well, it’s hard to get a mortgage and the tax man is always on my back, but the word entrepreneur… hmm. It felt weird to say, ‘YES, I AM AN ENTREPRENEUR!’
This got me thinking. The teenagers that I used to work with were happy to call themselves entrepreneurs and CEO’s long before they had made a prototype or even spoken to a customer. So why was it so hard for me? Is it because I grew up before the US hip hop / reality star / everyone is a CEO mentality made its way over the pond? Granted, I don’t feel like I can stand up against other entrepreneurs, I have many failures under my belt and don’t really feel like I’ve had my greatest success yet, but in fairness… I am one!
I thought back. Something stuck in my mind a few years back when watching The Apprentice (groan, yes, I know). Alan Sugar (was he Lord, surralan, or just Alan at that point? I don’t remember) said to one of the candidates that he shouldn’t call himself an entrepreneur. I did a bit of web searching and found the full quote:
“That’s the biggest wind-up going,” he explains. “An entrepreneur is not what you call yourself, it’s what someone calls you in recognition of what you’ve achieved. I call Richard Branson an entrepreneur. Rupert Murdoch called me one. Anybody who stands up and says: ‘I’m an entrepreneur’ needs shooting. You’ll drive people crazy.”
So what exactly are people of my nature supposed to call themselves? The dictionary defines entrepreneur as:
A person who organises and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.
Well, that my friends, is what the fuck I do. But I still don’t feel like England gets it. The states? Hell yea. As Julie Meyer (speaker also on a panel at Google activate, Chief Exec of Ariadne Capital) said on the day: "London has all of the talent and none of the ego".
Does that mean we aren’t giving ourselves the credit we deserve? I for one know that some people I mention the word entrepreneur to (i.e grandparents) think it’s code word for dreamer, wannabe Richard Bransons, bla bla. But… I am a dreamer, and I do want the success that Branson has! I’m a fucking entrepreneur and I should be proud of it!
I guess what keep the British as beautifully bashful as we are is our reluctance to embrace success. A bittersweet motive. I took to Facebook to get a few views.
Henry Lukas, house manager of Sketch:
I think Brits aren’t a self promoting culture. If you ‘brag’ or pr yourself you’re seen as new money or vulgar almost. I don’t think being a dreamer/entrepreneur holds much social validity here yet. In LA someone will stand up and say ‘let’s do it!!’. In London they’ll say ‘we’re going to need a permit’.
Amir Amroussi, co-founder of Tacolisa:
‘The Brits seem to think you need to be Alan Sugar or Richard Branson to be considered an entrepreneur, whereas I see it as an individual in charge of an enterprise.’
Farouk Deen, Director of Cellar Door promotions:
‘British people of a generation group and above have a hard time calling themselves entrepreneurs due to the social pressures to conform to the archetypal 9 - 5 work day, own your own house and have 2.4 children false dream perpetuated from once one enters the education system.’
What do you think, do us Brits need to take more pride in calling ourselves entrepreneurs?