ast week, I stumbled upon an article in an Austrian newspaper describing current politicians as people who do not take action, we hardly hear from them and it is all just a big show. Well, I think these kinds of descriptions of politicians in the press are nothing out of the ordinary. However, what amazed me about this article was the the following comparison: “Our government behaves like a startup or a casting show.” Another article about people born between 1980-90, described millennials as follows: “He (sic! in German: DER Millenial) wears pin stripe suits, runs a startup and believes in neoliberal ideas”.
What I find so interesting is the shift that happened in the last year when it comes to start-ups: while it was “cool” to quit your job and join a startup in 2014 when I founded my first business, it has turned 180 degrees. Sometimes, I even feel that I have to apologize for being an entrepreneur. Especially in Austria, this view of entrepreneurs seems particularly popular. It really reminds me when private equity funds were being referred to as “grasshoppers” after the Lehmann crash in 2008.
The two articles mentioned above illustrate this shift very well. Firstly, putting “start-up” and “casting show” in one sentence is something that has been annoying me for a very long time. Thanks to shows such as “Shark Tank” or the Austrian version “2 minutes – 2 millions”, the public view on start-ups is that all we do is to wear hoodies, get money from other people (preferably in a TV show) and not succeed anyways because we do not actually work. I do agree that some people in the start-up scene might have contributed to that idea. The past four years, I did meet a lot of people who are quite famous within the scene, speak at conferences and advise founders without even having started their own business. However, this is not the majority of people I met. The really successful ones – or those on the road to running a successful business – work extremely hard, most of the time do not waste their time at start-up conferences and took risks that would be unimaginable for many of us.
This brings me to the second point: most of the articles and negative views on start-ups are written by people in relatively stable jobs who have not founded a business. Hence, I would like to ask them: “Who are you to judge? Do you really know what it takes to be an entrepreneur?” – probably not. It means, working non-stop, overcoming challenges unimaginable for people who have a steady 9-5 job, taking extreme risks (financially and when it comes to our careers), quitting (highly paid) jobs, investing their savings and waking up at night fearing that we might not be able to pay next month’s rent or employees if the business fails. And on top of all of this, it is a lonely battle, because even if you have built up a team, the difficult decisions and problems to solve are down to the founder. Therefore, if you have not experienced this yourself, I do not think you are qualified to judge those who did.
Thirdly, I loooove it when people write about millennials without actually being a millennial. The author of the article above was born in 1972. No reason was given what was her expertise qualifying her to write about the generation born between 1980 and 1990. Do I need to say anymore here? And by the way: Hello, I am female, I hate pin-striped suits and I do not think neoliberal actions are the solution to every problem!
Lastly, what I do not understand is why there is so much anger against people who start their own business. What a lot of people forget is: “start-up” literally means starting something up from scratch. It does not have to be what is considered a fancy tech business. In my opinion, every person who has the guts to invest his/her own money and takes risks to build something from scratch is a start-up. No matter if it is a baker, a fashion designer or a tech founder. I think this negative tenor against founders bears a big risk in itself: it makes it even scarier to start your own business. One of my economics professors at university used to say: “Politics does not create jobs, only businesses do.” And I totally agree. Therefore, instead of creating a negative environment, contribute to one promoting entrepreneurship. Your own job and future might depend on it in the long-run…
So, to all the authors of anti-startup-articles: if you happen to stumble upon my article like I did upon yours, please ask yourself critically: “Do I really know what entrepreneurs go through? Would I take those risks as well? Would I be able to make it through that? Would I want to sacrifice my lifestyle for realizing my dreams?” – if not, please stop the BS! Thanks!
Note: Picture courtesy of Nest Hong Kong, the organizer of a female founders event in which I participated in 2016.