2001: An Entrepreneurial Odyssey

Why the next century will belong to entrepreneurs.
Magazine Contributor
14 min read

This story appears in the April 1999 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

Oh, no! The words hit you at 3:11 a.m., followed by the thought: The new millennium is almost here! I was going to have my life completely together by December 31, 1999. I was going to have achieved economic world domination. Bill Gates was going to be reduced to hand-washing my cars. I was going to give Belgium to my spouse as an anniversary gift. But instead, I hardly know what my inventory is, I don't have a budget surplus, my dog has fleas, my tires need to be rotated . . .

Stop hyperventilating. If you own a business--even if you're just thinking about running your own business--you're already ahead of the game. We're now entering the Entrepreneurial Age, according to . . . well, just about everybody. For starters, Ernst & Young LLP recently completed a survey that found 78 percent of influential Americans believe entrepreneurship will be the defining trend of the 21st century.

Futurist Gerald Celente also sees an abundance of entrepreneurial opportunities ahead: "Imagine if you filled a hole with boulders. There are spaces between the boulders. The large boulders are the corporations, and the spaces are the opportunities." Smaller companies, says Celente, will wedge themselves into the spaces mammoth-sized corporations can't.

More to the point, Thomas Petzinger, a Wall Street Journal columnist and author of The New Pioneers (Simon & Schuster), believes, "Everyone will have to be an entrepreneur in the future."

All of this begs an intriguing question. If everybody's an entrepreneur, who will take your order the next time you're at McDonald's? And more important: As we face the future, what will the entrepreneurs of the new millennium be like?

Geoff Williams is in no hurry to see the new millennium--that's when he turns the big 3-0. This is Williams' second cover story for Entrepreneur. He also frequently writes for Business Start-Ups and The Cincinnati Post. His first feature in LIFE magazine is scheduled to run this month.

A New Generation

One thing is certain: Entrepreneurs are getting younger. Granted, your baby isn't likely to be birthed with a balance sheet in hand, but just give the little guy a few years. Your teenager may someday attend a business magnet school, such as the High School of Economics and Finance in New York City, or perhaps your children will start their own companies using their allowance.(See "New Money.")

But this is only the beginning. "You're going to see a huge explosion of entrepreneurial businesses in the next century," asserts Celente, who heads the Trends Research Institute, edits the quarterly Trends Journal and authored Trends 2000 (Warner Books). Lighting the fuse for this explosion is the Millennium Generation, the children born after 1980, says Celente. "Their parents come home from work," Celente says, "and the kids hear the horror stories: `The reason I'm home late is they fired five people at work and I'm picking up the slack.' And the children are saying, `I never want to work for a corporation.' "

Entrepreneurial Utopia?

Even corporations appear to be distancing themselves from themselves. Witness the invention of intrapreneurs. Companies are creating companies within their organizations and letting intrapreneurs make daily decisions--and profits--with minimal interference from above. (See "Internal Affairs," page 110.)

Petzinger, who has written for The Wall Street Journal for 21 years, calls the evolving world of the entrepreneur "stunning." Twenty years ago, he says, people who went into business saw themselves as "lone battlers facing a hostile world with customers who ripped them off or vendors who took advantage of them. That partly reflected the underdog mindset immigrants brought to entrepreneurship--because entrepreneurship was really an immigrant activity for many generations."

Say goodbye to the old pioneers of business. Today, as Petzinger sees it, pioneers who are blazing new business trails represent every group from Generation X to baby boomers. More and more entrepreneurs are taking the route of social goodwill in the way that companies like Newman's Own, The Body Shop and Ben & Jerry's have attempted. (See "Goodwill Hunting," page 112.)

Baby boomers in particular are making radical changes to the business landscape, says Petzinger. "To paraphrase somebody I quoted in the book, the people who danced naked at Woodstock didn't leave the planet--they still have some of their old values, and they're bringing more creative, more holistic views about cultural and commercial life into their visions of business."

Holistic and business are two words that aren't usually found in the same sentence, but they will be with more frequency, according to Chin-Ning Chu, a business consultant and the author of Do Less, Achieve More (Regan Books). "Spirituality is going to be a very important element in how we approach business," asserts Chu. "The elements of spirituality in this century have been separate from business: This is your business; this is your spirituality; this is your family life. I think in the next century we're going to see a subtle understanding that when we're good at one thing, it helps in all areas."

These blurred lines are hardly new, says Petzinger. It's only been in the last century that workers have commuted to offices. "When you think about it, it's a completely unnatural arrangement," contends Petzinger. "Where did business come from? It came from the farm. Who ran the farm? A family. It was your life. Then when economies and cultures became urbanized and you had bakers, shoemakers and so on, where did these merchants work from? Their homes. Now, we're getting back to that."

Kinder, Gentler Entrepreneurs

High school principals aren't usually considered entrepreneurs, but 37-year-old Mark Kushner, principal of Leadership High School, a charter school in San Francisco, is part of a new breed.

Several years ago, Kushner was living quite a different life--as an attorney who called a posh San Francisco penthouse home. "This is good," thought Kushner, "and I like it." But a nagging thought insisted he look for more meaningful work. Kushner tried representing charitable organizations, but the former high school teacher realized he missed interacting with kids. So he quit his job, earned a masters in education and, by fall 1997, had the knowledge and investors to start his own charter high school.

Located on the campus of Golden Gate University in San Francisco, Leadership High has 95 students in each grade, and has received 3,000 inquiries from prospective freshmen for the fall of 1999. The first class will graduate in 2001. Kushner hopes to open schools on other Golden Gate University campuses along the west coast. He also hopes to soon move out of his modest studio. He clearly didn't go into this for the money.

Kushner's experience is hardly unusual anymore. Today's entrepreneurs bring values and viewpoints not seen in abundance before, says Ron Guzik, author of The Inner Game of Entrepreneuring (Dearborn Publishing/Upstart). "These new values include making family life important, [being aware of] social issues and focusing on quality of life," observes Guzik. "The dominant value held by most entrepreneurs in the past was financial success. While this is still important, many people are including other aspects of life in their business goals."

While Guzik thinks this trend is happening throughout the work force, he sees it to a larger degree in the entrepreneurial sector. "I believe these trends are just getting started and will continue for many years," Guzik says.

New Choices

"Will you have the chicken or the beef?"

Twenty thousand feet in the air, as Randy Grim gave his passengers their choice of entrees, he was regretting his chosen profession. "I wasn't the ideal flight attendant," says Grim. "I'm kind of shy, and I didn't like talking to strangers." But Grim, 36, had always loved animals, and as he flew across America from the mid-1980s until 1991, he rescued wayward cats during his layovers, paying for their medical care and finding them homes. (Average annual out-of-pocket cost for these gestures of goodwill: $8,000.) Even in foreign countries, Grim did what he could. "I remember feeding my dinner to the stray animals in Istanbul," he says.

Eventually Grim came back to earth and apprenticed at a dog grooming shop until 1994, when he opened one of his own: Bark Avenue. The St. Louis business brought in a respectable $100,000 last year. And in the summer of 1998, Grim stopped spending his own $8,000 each year to save strays and instead started a second enterprise, the nonprofit Stray Rescue of St. Louis.

In the coming millennium, Grim plans to expand both businesses, creating something of a nonprofit "halfway house" for homeless pets and a for-profit day-care center for dogs. His for-profit companies, he hopes, will not only support him and his staff but also fund his nonprofit ventures. "I might save a million dogs," Grim says, "but I won't ever make a million dollars."

Don't count the old-style entrepreneurs out, however. There's plenty of room in the 21st century for entrepreneurs of the more capital-focused persuasion.

Jeremy Kraus's company has already made its first million, and its owner is only 23. Kraus started his company, Jeremy's MicroBatch Ice Creams, while he was a student at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, majoring in entrepreneurial management. "I view myself as a career entrepreneur," says Kraus.

Kraus' company, which has four full-time employees and five part-timers, makes six ice cream flavors that are sold in 3,500 regional outlets. By summer, Kraus expects his ice cream to be sold nationwide. His 1998 sales topped $1 million, and his projected sales for 1999 should approach $10 million.

A millennium ago, both Kraus and Grim would have likely spent their lives doing whatever their parents had done, be it as anvil salesmen or farm peasants. And 20 years ago, Kraus would have earned a conventional MBA. But some things never change. Grim's reasons for becoming an entrepreneur are probably no different from his predecessors': "I wanted to be able to make my own decisions," he says. "I had a vision in my mind of what I wanted to do. I wanted to have the freedom and control to do it the way I wanted to do it."

And Kraus, who has almost no experience as an employee, seems to hunger equally for that freedom and control. "I think the seed for entrepreneurship actually comes a lot from your family and what values are encouraged there, like a strong work ethic and independence--specifically independence--where being independent is seen as noble," says Kraus. "You have to have the confidence to be different."

Kraus' flavors are different--Classic S'mores and Fuzzy Navel sure aren't reminiscent of your father's ice cream. "This is a calculated maneuver at a market opportunity," says Kraus, who promises Jeremy's MicroBatch won't be the last company he creates.

Entrepreneurs create their own destinies for profit or pleasure--and frequently for both. While being an entrepreneur has allowed Kraus to shape his own economic destiny, Grim observes, "I'm more fulfilled now than I've ever been, and I probably make less money now than I ever have."

So the entrepreneurs of the new millennium may be whoever damn well wants to be an entrepreneur. Let the robots go fetch the Big Macs. There's money to nab and personal growth to grab. The entrepreneurial millennium is almost here.

To read about another entrepreneur of the 21st century, turn to "Dell On," page 121.

New Money

If you've been wishing you'd started your business a little earlier in life (and you're still second-guessing your decision to major in Mesopotamian Mythology), then perhaps you don't want to read any further. Maybe you'd rather not know about the annual Fleet Bank Youth Entrepreneur Day held in New York City that awards youngsters for their achievements as entrepreneurs.

Last December, the latest crop of winners included Tahira Abdur-Rahim, 16, who earns $400 a month selling her homemade lollipops, and 13-year-old Christina Smith, whose company, Cute Paws, makes personalized accessories for dogs weighing 15 pounds or less. Net profits as of press time: $300.

Even as you chuckle and proudly dust off your Mesopotamian Mythology degree, consider another Fleet Bank honoree: Aron Leifer, a 19-year-old who lives in New York City with his parents. When he was 16, Leifer started MultiMedia Audiotext, a company that designs computer software.

"You have to do something you enjoy because if you don't enjoy it, within two or three years, you're going to be out of business," says Leifer. "If you're into cars, find information about cars. If you're into sports, sell something that has to do with sports. I enjoy computers--that's why I do it. If I enjoyed playing golf, I'd probably be selling golf balls and a bunch of different things that have to do with golf."

The teenager must know what he's talking about. He has his own office, seven full-time employees, 87 part-time international freelancers and a client list that includes Bell Atlantic. And he's bringing in a whopping $50,000 a month.

Internal Affairs

Let's play devil's advocate for a moment: When the world ends, perhaps there will only be one company, its name being something along the lines of AT&T-Microsoft-Exxon. Maybe there won't be entrepreneurs. But at least we'll have intrapreneurs.

Intrapreneurs--a term at least as old as Gifford Pinchot's 1985 book Intrapreneuring: Why You Don't Have to Leave the Corporation to Become an Entrepreneur (Harper & Row)--are men and women who run companies that are spin offs of parent enterprises. They don't own these companies, but as 38-year-old intrapreneur Jeff Dodge points out, "If I had started Channelware in my garage, I'd own 100 percent of it, and over a period of time, my percentage of it as an individual would get diluted down. In an intrapreneurial position, we actually come at it from zero and work our way up. At the end of the day, we end up at the same place."

Well, maybe. But at least Dodge didn't fork over any money to start Channelware Inc., an Ottawa-based software marketing and distribution subsidiary of communications giant Nortel. Dodge was one of thousands of employees at Nortel, which has branches in the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia. When he came up with the concept for Channelware, he was able to get millions of dollars in funding from Nortel's venturing program. He now runs the company while Nortel owns a majority interest.

"That's a tremendous advantage," says Jane Rafeedie, a 40-year-old intrapreneur in Atlanta. Her online company, KnowX.Com, provides public record information to small businesses and consumers.

"If I weren't doing this, I'd be starting something else on my own," insists Rafeedie, who had been working as a marketing manager when her former employer, Information America, suggested she run one of its subsidiaries, KnowX.Com, located in the same building.

Like all entrepreneurs, Rafeedie's company had better be up to speed--or else. If Information America decides KnowX.Com isn't performing adequately, it can eliminate the company on the spot. And that would mean Rafeedie would surrender something other than just the financial security of not having to be an entrepreneur--the use of her parent company's really cool rec room.

Goodwill Hunting

Don't call Nick Gleason a do-gooder. He isn't too crazy about the term. Yes, CitySoft Inc., the Cambridge, Massachusetts, technology firm he co-founded with Jim Picariello in June 1997, is a Web company that hires talented Web develop-ers from low-income urban neighborhoods to design Web pages for companies, but it's an "unapologetically for-profit business." Gleason says the company's income has grown 300 percent since it opened.

Gleason, 31, grew up hearing stories about his parents' contributions to the civil rights movement. He's worked extensively in social services--everything from education and housing to health. When he found himself involved with helping impoverished people, he also discovered his "entrepreneurial mindset."

"I love being an entrepreneur. There's something about the sheer creativity and challenge of it that I like," raves Gleason. "I was going to be the plant manager of a bottle cap manufacturing company in Crawfordsville, Indiana. That was the job I didn't take to do this."

But Gleason says he'd be just as happy if he were the owner of that bottle cap manufacturing company as he is running CitySoft. "The product doesn't matter," he says. "I'm more interested in developing human resources and putting [people] to work in a productive way. It's the people problems that I like [solving]."

Does Gleason see a trend toward social goodwill among entrepreneurs? "I hope there is," he says. "I think for me it's about figuring out my values, what matters to me, and how I can integrate those values into my life--there are a whole bunch of ways to do that. It's about figuring out who you are and what gets you up in the morning and putting that into life."

Well, he sounds like a do-gooder, but you didn't hear it from us.

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