When I started CCAW, I told people I was an entrepreneur. I had quit my job and created a company that had customers, and I controlled my own destiny (kinda). One summer when I was in New York with friends I tagged along as one of them visited his uncle in Connecticut.
The uncle was entering the later years of a wildly lucrative career. He’d worked in corporate America and then started a successful company with his wife. That company changed the family’s life. When I said I was an entrepreneur, he became more interested in me. He asked lots of questions about my company. Then came the most important question of the conversation: “How many employees do you have?” I remember thinking, Why does that matter? Little did I know that the answer would tell him more about my company and my mindset than anything else we discussed.
At the time it was me and a part-time contractor or two (I was bootstrapping so funds were tight). I proudly told him about my contractors, and he replied, “OK. Keep going; you’re not quite there yet.” What does that mean? I wondered.
In hindsight, I think he was telling me (politely) that I wasn’t an entrepreneur yet. I was on my way, but I hadn’t arrived yet. I had succeeded in creating a job for myself, not a company. I was a solopreneur, not an entrepreneur. At the time I didn’t know there was such a thing as a solopreneur.
Solopreneurs are workers. They’re usually the one and only full-time employee. They handle all aspects of a business and execute most tasks. With no full-time team, everything falls on this one person. If the solopreneur doesn’t work, the work doesn’t get done. They are the business. This setup limits how big the company can get because there’s only so much one person can do. Freelancers of all kinds, barbers, and massage therapists, for example, are often solopreneurs.
Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, are managers. A team conquers by dividing the work. The entrepreneur delegates so he can focus on growing the business. He usually has a larger vision for the company and realizes early he can’t do it all alone. The business has its own identity independent of the founder. If the entrepreneur doesn’t execute, the work still gets done. I like to think of an entrepreneur as the driver of a machine that does the work. Businesses from which you purchase a product or service without interacting with the owner are likely run or were started by entrepreneurs.
Over time I realized that I didn’t want to be a solopreneur because I wanted to grow. I had a bigger vision for CCAW. I eventually hired a great team and focused on building CCAW into a machine that didn’t need me. We went on to accomplish some great things. Looking back, there’s no way I could have done it alone. It was a team effort.
I’m thankful for the conversation I had with my friend’s uncle. Although we met only once, he left a lasting impression on me. His entrepreneurial wisdom was priceless.
If you’re thinking about starting a company (or you have one already), have you decided whether you intend to be a solopreneur or an entrepreneur?