In talking to my brother over the last few months, I’ve come to realised just how similar entrepreneurs are to academics.
Don’t think so? Let me state my non-scientific case:
- Assumptions: The starting point for both an entrepreneur (E) and academic (A) is an assumption.
E: I believe the world needs a social network that targets corgi dog lovers!
A: I posit the existence of wormholes in Alpha Centuri that will connect us to an alien race!
- Process: The next step is to measure, test and determine empirically if the idea holds water or not. If not, why not? What other interesting problems have been uncovered in the process that can be followed up? Is it worth pursuing those problems? This is essentially The Pivot for startups.
- Environment: The environment in which both practitioners operate in are fraught with detractors and uncertainty. It is also one of the most intellectually stimulating environments to be in. They are also both highly paranoid that someone might steal their idea, implement it and get rich and famous.
- Broke: At the very early stages, the entrepreneur and academic are both broke. If it’s anyone else who knows ramen flavours better than a broke startup entreprenuer, is a broke Ph.d student. Applying for a fellowship, grant or sponsorship from a foundation for an academic is akin to applying for venture capital for an entrepreneur.
- Binary payoffs: You either make it or you don’t. Your idea either catches on, hopefully before you run out of money or you fade into obscurity a.k.a deadpool. In most cases, the entrepreneur and academic would be more than happy to make a small dent on society(like in the picture above) but once in a while, a genius takes the industry to a whole paradigm and completely smashes the glass ceiling. Think Einstein/Darwin/etc and Apple/Facebook/etc
- Cause driven: Why are we doing what we’re doing? Is it for the money? Recognition? Status? Dave McClure is fond of saying you don’t get rich by becoming an entrepreneur. There are easier paths available. I think ultimately these two characters are driven by a need to make a difference. Sure, fame and fortune normally follow too but the crucial thing is, they won’t have it any other way. If they were to be bestowed with fame and fortune, it will have to be through the validation of an idea that they had. Not through inheritance, windfall or whatever.
- Timing: If your thesis as an academic involved researching the dynamics of state vs. people in todays era of internetology specifically in middle eastern countries like Egypt, you’ll probably be a rockstar now. The most recent example of such a phenomenon in startup land would probably be all the M&A in social gaming in the last few years and before that virtual worlds.
Convinced? Leave your thoughts in the comments 🙂