Rockstar Entrepreneurs: Beware the Narrative

Post originally appeared on RocNext blog.

Localized small business is the antithesis of vogue; today, the rags to riches entrepreneur—the Open Source American Dream—is what’s trending. 500,000 startups are launched each month in the United States, and popular culture is actively responding.

We see ABC’s Shark Tank. We listen to startup podcasts. We read magazines (and some of us dream of making INC’s annual 30 Under 30 Coolest Entrepreneurs list).

And while the myth of the young adult entrepreneur as the dominant demographic has been busted (over 80% of new entrepreneurs in 2013 were age 35+; 67% were 45+), one cannot deny the impact young entrepreneur success stories are having on other young adults: Mark Zuckerburg, Drew Houston, Jordi Munoz.

Instead of learning guitar, writing music, and starting garage bands, millennials are now learning code, writing software, and starting garage businesses.

This is good, of course.

We want our young people innovating and raising capital. We want our young minds creatively destroying customer pain.

But the rags to riches narrative, left unchecked, can mislead some talented young business men and women down distracted paths, blinding them for many years to more immediate, local opportunities.

Dispelling the narrative

The open-source American Dream, the rockstar narrative, it goes like this:

Venture capitalists (VCs) are out there somewhere, swimming, chewing and funding. These VCs seek entrepreneurs who can change the world, ideally, through massively consumable goods. Our rockstar entrepreneur is funded, becomes immensely popular, and in the rags to riches tale, earns billions in the exit strategy.

Unfortunately, VCs only fund a dismal amount of startups (something like 0.05%). This is so dismal, in fact, that entrepreneurship consultant Dileep Rao claims your startup shouldn’t even bother. Family, friends and bank loans, he claims, are your best bet.

But family, friends, and bank loans only take you so far, and offering equity as payment eventually leaves you with none. You spend years developing a product and a platform, eating up savings (or your parent’s savings), and in the meantime you’re missing other, more current opportunities. You may eventually land that much needed VC pitch, as you cling to hope, but the VC tells you that your paradigm shifting product is already outdated.

My outlook is bleak, sure, but the core idea is valid: the hunt to become a silicon valley startup success story is not as accessible as the narrative in popular culture suggests. Like a musician, after years spent on the road, you may just end up with a series of “almost hits” and an abundant box full of unsold merchandise—wrapped CDs and tacky t-shirts—with nothing to show for it but lost time.

So be careful.

Don’t get macro stuck in the Cloud. Get down here. On the streets. Look for opportunities in small business. Local. Tangible. Possible. Rochester is pulsing with opportunity. The #2 City for Opportunity in the Country.

So start selling now.

We’re here. We’re waiting for you. The opportunity is now.

Header photo: [Israel Sundseth]

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One comment

  1. Great analogy and I totally agree with the dangers, but love the trend. I think it is what makes America so unique and the entrepreneurs are what makes this country thrive. To me the heightened globalization followed by a resurgence of start ups is very interesting and healthy. Great post!

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