Goodbye, Mom & Pop

The neighborhood's not big enough for today's entrepreneurs. Only the world will do.

Jim McCann's father owned a business. "He was a painting contractor," McCann explains. "He had good years and bad. He had ideas for growing the business, but he also had five children to support, which meant his risk tolerance wasn't high." Neither was the burning, irrational desire to push the envelope. "Whether for financial reasons or because of the parameters that his psyche imposed, my father was a small-business owner. He did fine, but he wasn't an entrepreneur."

McCann, on the other hand, is the real deal. The 47-year-old president of Long Island, New York-based 1-800-FLOWERS parlayed a background in social work and $10,000 into a $300 million nationwide enterprise, consisting of 150 company-owned and franchised flower shops, 2,500 affiliated florists, five telemarketing centers, and an online presence that's growing like--well, weeds.

What separates McCann--and entrepreneurs like him--from the legions of small-business owners out there? It's not a matter of success or failure. The owner of a single profitable clothing boutique is not unsuccessful. Indeed, starting and running a business that pays your bills, meets its payroll and feeds the economy is a worthy accomplishment by anyone's standard--it's more, certainly, than most people manage in a lifetime.

And still, there's a difference. You see it in the shape of a company and the spirit of its founder: a delight in growth, innovation and risk. McCann calls his entrepreneurial character a "genetic defect," something so basic and profound it's undeniable. "Whatever I was going to be--whether I stayed in the nonprofit world or started my own business--I was going to grow [the enterprise]," McCann says. "It's part of my nature."

That nature is certainly what separates entrepreneurs from their business-owning counterparts. Although each entrepreneurial story has its own magic--a particular combination of luck and circumstances that makes it unique--there are also common themes. Here, then, are the major symptoms, six signs that you may be more than just an employee with a better-than-average profit-sharing program. If the profile fits, you just might have the e-gene.

Gayle Sato Stodder probably isn't a true entrepreneur herself, but she learned enough about them as a former senior writer for Entrepreneur that she could play one on TV.

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This article was originally published in the May 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Goodbye, Mom & Pop.

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