Everyone wants to call themselves an "entrepreneur" but the C-word is somehow off limits.
But we are all C-words. And we need to be proud of that.
Somehow the word "capitalist" has become a dirty word, even as more and more people, from pseudo-celebrities to three-card-monte dealers, are calling themselves "entrepreneurs." The underuse of the word "capitalist" is directly proportional to the overuse of the word "entrepreneur," and that's a sad equation.
Perhaps "entrepreneur" is simply cooler to say. Tongues might like the European nature of the word, though I'd argue the continent is so socialist, I'm not sure the French have a word for entrepreneur.
Really, though, the reason by capitalism is out of conversational vogue is more political. Capitalism is somehow viewed as bad because it's powered by profit. Entrepreneurship is something else, driven not by profits but by great ideas, independence, self-reliance, innovation, drum circles, and the like. No self-respecting liberal can be a capitalist, with their corpulence, cigars and canvas bags full of clinking gold. Entrepreneurs are different. They have principles, Slack and logo-emblazoned t-shirts. Successful capitalists and entrepreneurs can each make millions, but only entrepreneurs feel like they do it in the socially acceptable way, with uninterrupted sleep on their Caspers.
Truth is, entrepreneurship exists only because of capitalism. There can be no argument, no debate on that point. Don't believe me? Move to a less economically free country and build your app there. Controlled economies tell you what jobs you can have. You aren't permitted to pursue your passions because those passions may be contrary to the needs of the state. Try building your app in a communist country. Better yet, try building it in some statist economies in the Middle East, if you're a woman or LGBTQ+. Then try to manage a workforce there.
It's the free-market nature of the American economy that allows entrepreneurship to flourish and thrive. The market dictates your fate as a business leader more than any other factor. If you have a product that people want that solves a customer's problem, that no one has ever brought to market, you can create a successful business.
Best of all, you can define what success looks like for you. We glamorize the billionaires and the unicorns they ride on, but capitalism allows for the creation of much more modest-sized, yet equally important, companies. Tech steals the spotlight like an only child, but there is value created in our daily lives by the bagel shop around the corner, the mechanic who fixes our car, the family-owned clothing store, the immigrant who opened her own franchise.
All of those companies make up a capitalist ecosystem that is so much more meaningful than the feel-good world self-described entrepreneurs try to evangelize. They aren't getting rich. They are living free, thanks to the economic system embracing them.
I've argued in the past that the term "social entrepreneurship" is silly. All entrepreneurship is social because all business creation contributes to social good. Look at the aforementioned bagel shop. Not only does it give you a pumpernickel with a schmear better than anyone else, it also employs bakers, counter help, and delivery drivers. It buys from suppliers who employ factory workers. It advertises in media titles, which employ journalists (thank God).
There is nothing more meaningful, more socially right, more life-changing that offering someone a job. It betters a person, a family and a community. You cannot do that without profit. You need to generate revenue, pay expenses and have some money left over in order to grow. That money left over is profit, which, rather than being hoarded by greedy capitalists as some in the media and the business community would have you believe, is most effectively used by reinvestment in product and people. There is no more foolish business leader than the person who looks at revenue and profit growth alone, at the expense of treating his team right and not making meaningful investments in his core products or services. In capitalist systems, those people almost always lose key talent, lose credibility in the marketplace and fail.
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Smart capitalists know this. They look for opportunity. They look for innovations. They treat staff well, in pay and benefits. They evolve with their customers. Yes, they even "disrupt."
That is capitalism, not just the way the self-identifying entrepreneurs perpetrate it. Large corporations that succeed do so through the same principles most entrepreneurs brag and blog about. It isn't new. It's just cooler, like the inevitable return of bell bottoms and retro beer cans. At best, most people who call themselves entrepreneurs aren't changing the world on their own. They're part of an American-style capitalism that continues to make the global community a freer, safer, more open and developing planet every minute.
Truth is, most real entrepreneurs I speak with never actually call themselves entrepreneurs. My experience has been that most people who brag about being an entrepreneur actually are really bad at running and building a company, or quite don't know what they want to be when they grow up. "Serial entrepreneur" is Latin for "hopeless failure."
No, real entrepreneurs, the ones who used their talents, their drive, their risk and their sacrifice, think labels are too limiting. They believe in their ability to do hard work and they believe in the companies they have spawned. They proudly call themselves a CEO. An investor. A fashion designer. A marketer. A developer. A baker.
They are capitalists, one and all, and their work -- and the economic system in which that work flourishes -- has value far beyond whatever the hottest label might be.