Some people will read this headline and think, ‘What the fffff-heck! Of course entrepreneurship is about wealth creation. It’s about building companies and industries, isn’t it!’
These people are usually not entrepreneurs. Or they have only recently embarked down the road of entrepreneurial endeavour.
There are a few highly successful empire builders who would also disagree. But only a rare few of the empire builders that I have met would I consider entrepreneurs or entrepreneurial.
So, what am I getting at?
Well, if you speak to almost any successful serial business builder and ask them to tell you about their latest venture, he or she will start talking you about almost every aspect of the business… except the money. (And this is not because they don’t want to sound obnoxious or rude.)
Art versus Entrepreneurship
Not so long ago, a dear friend of mine scoffed when I mentioned that I’d had a meeting with Victoria University’s ‘Entrepreneur In Residence’.
“Entrepreneur in residence!” was his violent reaction. “Who do they think they are? The Faculty of Arts?”
My BA-wielding friend’s horror was seemingly provoked because Victoria University had unintentionally forced him to associate the ‘money-grubbing’ field of entrepreneurship with the noble Arts.
I was quietly (and strangely) upset. Yet, it took me weeks to understand why.
My friend’s reaction not only highlighted for me how poorly many otherwise rationale people still view entrepreneurs — at their core — even if they are not ready to acknowledge what is unarguably real prejudice. It also highlighted a huge misunderstanding about the drivers of entrepreneurship.
To my otherwise erudite, thoughtful, wonderful friend, entrepreneurship has always been and will always be solely driven by the desire to accumulate wealth (at all cost).
My first ‘artistic’ endeavour
In 2003, I set about creating my first work of art.
A dissatisfaction with the status quo had created a desire from deep within to comment and share this dissatisfaction through art.
Despite having never picked up a paint brush (my former artistic achievements had peaked with finger painting), I set about creating my first public showing.
Of course, I had doodled behind closed doors over the years. But this no longer was providing the satisfaction I craved.
So, in the traditions of Warhol and Takashi Murakami, I created a workshop.
In the beginning, I worked alone. After a while, I brought on apprentices and involved like-minded artisan.
Within a matter of months, my first artwork was ready.
I found an agent willing to push my art out into the world and I organised a launch party, with free chardonnay and canapes for friends and prospective buyers of my art.
Like many struggling artists, my work was not met with critical acclaim. It didn’t create a buzz. In fact, it barely raised a hum. But that didn’t matter. I was living the dream. I was enjoying the Bohemian lifestyle (i.e. poverty) because I was gaining fulfillment through my art. I was experiencing a sense of purpose like I’d never felt before.
And, with that purpose, came strength.
My second showing was better than the first, fueled by this strength. The critics began to take notice and a few daring early benefactors began to make purchases. And, with each purchase, my artistic endeavour was nudged closer and closer to commercial sustainability.
By my fourth showing, the market was talking, the art-lovers were buying and the art prizes soon followed, presented by veteran artists, who too understood the feeling of exhilaration, passion and meaning that only their art could provide.
They also knew that many artists never achieve commercial success (usually due to lack of appropriate education) and that, when an artist is able to break free from the shackles of wage-slavery to pursue their art as a profession, this achievement is worthy of celebration.
This artist had made good!
Of course, I’m talking about Anthill Magazine.
My dissatisfaction was with the mainstream media (the ‘old guard’). My projects and showings were magazine editions. My ‘doodlings’ were business plans and other endeavours that never made it past the drawing board. (My maths abilities peaked in Year 7.) My ‘like-minded artesan’ were writers, designers and any help I could find. My ‘daring early benefactors’ were advertisers and angels. My agents were retail distributors.
The chardonnay and canapes were… Chardonnay and canapes.
So, what IS entrepreneurship about?
If entrepreneurship is not about wealth creation, then, what’s it actually about?
What drives entrepreneurs to do what they do?
Having spent thousands of hours, over eight years, interviewing and writing about hundreds of entrepreneurs (aspiring, successful, infectious and otherwise), I can say with certainty that the most successful entrepreneurs — successful in life, love, health and wealth — are not driven by wealth creation.
Put simply, they are driven by the process of creation itself.