Goodbye, Mom & Pop

4. You Bet Your Life

Everybody knows one: the would-be entrepreneur with a brilliant concept, executive skills, drive and determination--and an absolute inability to stake even half his checking account balance on a new venture. This isn't entrepreneurship; it's fantasy.

Real entrepreneurs stake their lives on their businesses. They mortgage their homes. They raid (with consent, of course) their parents' retirement accounts and their kids' college funds. They hock their appliances. They solicit investments from friends, associates--basically, anyone with a wallet.

This principle applies even to entrepreneurs in small-scale, noncapital-intensive businesses. Los Angeles entrepreneurial trainer Kimberly Stansell, the author of Bootstrapper's Success Secrets: 151 Tactics for Building Your Business on a Shoestring Budget (Career Press), calls herself a "solopreneur." She works alone, from home, and without any inventory.

But Stansell, who's in her 30s, rightly considers herself an entrepreneur, and here's why: Her enterprise is constantly evolving and growing--and she's willing to stake her assets and income on it. Since Stansell quit her "dream job" as a corporate personnel director in 1989 to start a homebased jewelry business, she's been through a few incarnations--first as a manufacturer and marketer, then as an author, and now as a writer, trainer, speaker and consultant.

Stansell's business is thriving, yet she doesn't always measure success by current income. "Every time I take a new direction, there's a dip [in my revenue]," she says. "It takes time to home in on what you need to be doing." And, for entrepreneurs, time is money. Yet Stansell considers her enterprise a worthy investment. "The potential is there to increase my earnings," she says. "And five years from now, I don't think it's unrealistic to say I could be earning five times what I'm making now."

Stansell's independence, capacity for change, diligence and intelligence define her identity as an entrepreneur. But so does her willingness to put her money where her mouth is. "I assume all the risk for everything I do," she says. "Any time a person has the courage to put all their resources into getting their ideas out into the marketplace, they deserve credit."

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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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