I was walking down K-Street, the metonymy loosely ascribed to Washington’s lobbying industry, last evening. I had just met with a group of young entrepreneurs (through Sandbox) at a restaurant there.
As I was walking back towards the metro, I observed the quiet (everyone was straight-faced), yet bustling, influx of pedestrians on to the street from most of the buildings that lined up K-Street (side note: K-Street is almost the Wall Street-equivalent of political lobbying). The plush restaurants (mind you, mine was a funky burger outlet) had higher occupancy levels relative to when I was walking from the metro station only an hour earlier. It was around 6:30 pm.
Lost in this sophisticated crowd — most of the people donned themselves with impressionable coats and hats — I had a few realizations on why I love being around entrepreneurs.
First, entrepreneurs do what they like. Call this arrogance, nonchalance or heart’s-calling. They are not molded easily into the status-quo. From the way they think about the world, to something as superficial as what they wear. Let’s talk about attire: an entrepreneur is totally comfortable in a pair of good-looking jeans and a t-shirt (I’m speaking for men, dear feminists) for events pertaining to business. And as long as the sense of fashion does not cross the line (nudity?), most entrepreneurs wouldn’t and couldn’t really care about the clothes fellow-entrepreneurs wear. This was evident from the dinner at funky burger place on K-Street. The entrepreneurs around me were chilling in the outfits they seemed to be comfortable in, no forceful sense of professionalism; while everyone else, on the road or as I peered into some of the restaurants during my walk back, seemed to be following the norms — business class suits, etc. For entrepreneurs, I would safely assume, its more about exploring the value of ideas and networks, than noting the uniformity on the exterior. Entrepreneurs don’t have uniforms – which in a way is a befitting metaphor to the arbitrary spirit of entrepreneurship. They do what they like..
Second, entrepreneurs are comfortable with whoever shares their vision. Everyone is welcome as long as he or she is on the same wavelength. There is no inaccessible hierarchical ladder to climb, which is otherwise necessary in mainstream professional work environments. Using myself as an example, I’m treated as an equal in entrepreneurship circles and feel welcomed and respected for my views; while I can hardly imagine dining and comfortably chatting with the best and brightest investment bankers or, more applicable to my present geography, lobbyists.
Third, incentive structures. In a way, it is in human nature to strive (or, in most cases, desire) to be the best. However, to achieve this target, the incentives shape differently for an entrepreneur as they do for a working-class professional. Entrepreneurs can really love their co-workers, because it is the effort of the entire team that counts towards the success of a start-up. In established institutions, success is a function of joint team effort; however, at the micro-level, there is no particular need for sticking by each other to see the day beyond the rough seas. The institution will survive well and good without your collaboration. Whereas your personal growth — climbing that hierarchical ladder — is a function of how well you fare against your own colleagues. Therefore, the incentives are slightly skewed.
These are just a handful of points. A lot more can be said either way: someone can love the life out of a secure job as opposed to the stresses of being cash-strapped, living out of a garage, and coping with falling down over and over again. But then again, that’s why entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs.