February 28, 2022

Midcareer Is A Great Time To Become An Entrepreneur

I won’t belabor the fact that there are very few early twenty-something entrepreneurs like Zuckerberg, Gates, and Bezos … I hope you know that. And I won’t totally discourage you if you want to start a business right out of university. That said, if you are going to start a business (especially a professional services business like a consulting business, marketing agency, accounting firm, legal firm, engineering and architecture, and so forth) or a business that takes a lot of know-how, you may want to wait until you are in your midcareer (general age range of late thirties to early fifties). If you have spent considerable time in the area you are seeking to start a business, then you have probably done what I outline below.

Entrepreneurship V. Intrapreneurship: Noting the Difference

If you are midcareer and have run things (divisions, projects, and so forth) in larger companies, like I have in my career, and feel they will serve you well in trying your hand at being a true entrepreneur—you are half right. While these skills and experiences will serve you well, they are quite different than the skills needed to be a true entrepreneur.

One of the rages of the 1980s and 1990s was the term intrapreneurship. This term was meant to push professionals in larger companies, who were possibly working on smaller/nimbler things, to act like an entrepreneur, but within a larger company (hence the turn of phrase intra). While I truly think this was a noble spin on things, and I was surely guilty of fashioning my own efforts along those “intra” lines, it does not translate to being an actual entrepreneur. I have met, and continue to meet, people who will tout their running-of-things in larger companies and try to equate that to being “just like an entrepreneur.” I’m sorry, but that’s baloney! Being intrapreneurial is not the same thing as being an entrepreneur. Allow me to expand on this.

If you lead a group, division, area, or region within a larger company, those are wonderful skills to have accumulated. These skills will serve you well if you decide to start your own business. That said, they are not true entrepreneurial skills/talents. Don’t get me wrong; these experiences are very strong, but they are not start-up experiences.

I only mention this to give those intrapreneurs a sense of what is to come if they venture out on their own, and to not get too cocky from their corporate résumés. Once you get on the outside, nobody cares about your windowed, corner office with wood furniture and bookcases!

Here are some tangible differences between the two:

Entrepreneur                        Intrapreneur

Paycheck:                 Zero                                        You are safe!

Pension/401(k):      Zero                                         You are safe!

Transparency:         Everyone sees and knows   You can spin what you want to

Risks:                         Enormous                              Minimal

Rewards:                   Enormous                              Modest (you get promoted)

Workweek:                24 x 7 x 365 (really)             12 x 5 x 250-ish days

Mindset:                     Engulfs you                           Occupies you

Disruption to Life:    Total                                       Contained

Bureaucracy:              None                                      Always some, sometimes lots

Processes:                  Invent them                         Adapt and abide

Excuses:                      None                                      Some

Infrastructure:           None                                      Some, often a lot

Health benefits: Short answer: none You are safe!

Corporate success will be a big help in starting a business from scratch, but it will not be a guaranteed determinant of entrepreneurial success.

So, if you have an idea or are just starting, send me a one paragraph description and I will tell you what I think. Can’t hurt?