There Ought To Be A Law

So you've only got one business? And maybe making that work is a struggle? Well, some business owners have more than their share--and make it look easy. We call them serial entrepreneurs.

It was November 1957, outside Plainfield, Wisconsin, when the police arrested Ed Gein. Inside his kitchen was a bountiful meal of pork chops; macaroni and cheese; pickles; coffee; cookies--and, simmering in a saucepan on the stove, a human heart.

Inside his house, the police made other grisly discoveries--including a box of noses, skulls on the posts of his bed and a headless corpse. The only room that appeared normal, save for the coat of dust, was that of Gein's long-dead mother. If any of this rings a bell, it's because Gein was the real-life inspiration for Robert Bloch's novel, Psycho, which became one of Alfred Hitchcock's film masterpieces.

America has long had a gruesome sense of humor, so maybe that's why "serial entrepreneur," a riff off serial killer, is the term often used to describe entrepreneurs who own multiple companies in their lifetimes. It's hardly a crime, but there does seem to be a growing number of entrepreneurs who stalk a trend, create a business from it and then, when it's flourishing, kill it (by selling or dissolving). Some serial entrepreneurs can't get rid of their company--it's their baby--but they want a growing family, so they hire managers to run the daily operations while they give birth to a new business.

Either way, serial entrepreneurs exist because they need a new challenge with every venture, says Andrew Zacharakis, an assistant professor at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, which boasts one of the finest entrepreneurial departments in the country. To be a serial entrepreneur, says Zacharakis, "You need to have incredible passion for the start-up process and for the industry your start-up is in, and incredible energy--all the attributes you'd normally associate with excellent entrepreneurs."

But serial entrepreneurship has its dark side. "You have to give up control of a venture that's been your baby and see somebody else take it over," warns Zacharakis. Ominous background music, please. "They may make decisions you don't agree with. The real downside is seeing others destroy something you bled over and tried to transform from a baby into a beautiful child."

Of course, you may just sell your infant corporation for $5 million. Or $50 mil. And you just might get over that downside.

Geoff Williams is a serial Entrepreneur writer, having written numerous articles for this magazine, and has written for Life and Ladies Home Journal. He's also a features reporter for The Cincinnati Post.

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Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the February 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: There Ought To Be A Law.

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