What is an Entrepreneur? Are You One?


I always assumed that everyone running their own business or venture would consider themselves an entrepreneur, but strong reactions from two people I respect, each of whom run their own businesses, caught me off guard and got me to thinking: what is an entrepreneur, and why don't these two business owners consider themselves one?

Person #1: She and her husband run a business that has several chapters around the country.  It pays their bills, provides entertainment, and keeps them very busy.  She is, I'd say, first and foremost, an artist. She is a photographer, lithographer, and adventurist (takes some of the most fun courses I've ever heard of...trapeze anyone?). Recently, she was at a trunk show where I was selling Katie James accessories, and she declared: "You know what? I'm just not an entrepreneur! I'm an artist!"  And I thought: "True!"  But then I remembered how she books herself on shows where she sells her photography, and promotes it in different ways, and tries to package it in different ways to sell it.  So even though she is highly visually creative, why is she not also an entrepreneur if she aims to sell her creations?

Person #2:  This woman is a partner of a highly coveted independent apparel label.  I'm not going to say which one, but know this: you most likely wear it. They have been in business for several years, have clients ranging from local boutiques to large department stores. They invented their product, love expanding their product line, and see a long life in this business for each of them. I asked this partner: "Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur?" She flatly said no.  Her reasons were that she has no desire to start the next big company.  She doesn't want to sell her company and start another. Obviously, she'd been asked this before.

Well. These answers really threw me. Being a co-founder of Tin Shingle, where the E  can stand for several things, including "entrepreneur", I figured everyone who survives by their own hand is an entrepreneur. But, when I quit my day job to survive by my own design company, I didn't consider myself an entrepreneur. The word didn't really enter my mind. I only knew a few things:

1. I wanted control over when I took vacations.
2. I wanted to decide which projects I worked on, and to be surrounded by design stuff all the time.
3. I wanted to be able to do things whenever I wanted, like go to the fabric store, the doctor, the vet, a walk with my dog, etc.

As you may know, actually doing these things as an entrepreneur has new challenges ;) , but they were my motivation at the time. I don't remember the exact moment that I actually called myself an entrepreneur, but I knew that others around me viewed me as a person who had started her own company and were cheering me on. All I knew was that I needed to pay my bills, and producing my accessories in the states, using high quality fabric, was not going to pay those bills, and I wasn't willing to take out a loan from family or a bank.

So I thought and thought. I had graphic design in my back pocket and a fun understanding of the web and how people used websites. I didn't want to freelance, because I wanted to be a branded entity. Then I realized that I could incorporate my day job, which was managing a website for a national non-profit, and create a new division of my design company - a digital division and call it Katie James Pixelated. If Kate Spade could design purses and airport wings (Delta's low-fare Song that is now gone), then I could go digital (and it was Melissa from The Matchstick Group who helped me realize this goal, and helped me create a blueprint of a business plan).

Webster defines entrepreneur as: "one who organizes a business undertaking, assuming the risk for the sake of profit." A Google search reveals similar definitions. Well, that is exactly what I did. And exactly what millions of others do on a daily basis, especially in this new economy, for zillions of different reasons. I call myself an entrepreneur but what drives me is not the next big company I can create and sell. It is the execution of the next big idea that comes into my head. Why? Because that idea is a like a flower to me. I love growing it. I love seeing where it goes, and yes, it can deliver profit, and pay my bills and maybe buy me a car (oh Jetta, how I miss you). 

We've all heard this before: people who do what they love go far. Well I'm sticking to that mantra. I wasn't one of those kids who realized that they could buy candy in a store for $.50, and take it to school and sell if for $1.00 for the sake of convenience to the student for having candy right there.  'm not saying that it's a bad idea, in fact it has to happen, I'm just saying that that genesis of an idea didn't drive me as an entrepreneur.

So I suppose there are different kinds of entrepreneurs, right? What do you think? And what kind of entrepreneur are you?