Growth / Planning & Strategy

Gary Vaynerchuk Doesn’t Think You’re An Entrepreneur. But I Do.

Ellis Friedman

Updated: Mar 21, 2019 · 7 min read

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young entrepreneur working on her business

An entrepreneur is:

a)    Bob, who works as a designer for a large corporation, but runs a photography business on nights and weekends

b)    Mary, who took a part time job doing phone sales while building her illustration business

c)    Joe, a public school teacher who runs a life coaching business when he’s not at school

d)    None of the above

e)    All of the above

Based on the post “So You Wanna Be An Entrepreneur …,” by Gary Vaynerchuk, he’d answer D, none of the above. But I would say E, all of the above.

In his post, Vaynerchuk asserted that if you’re holding down a job working for someone else while trying to establish or run your own business, you’re not actually an entrepreneur, you’re just an entrepreneur wannabe.

I have huge respect for Vaynerchuk and admire plenty of his other pieces of work—after all he was a speaker at a past ICON. But I think his idea of entrepreneurship is nonsense. Here’s why.

“If you’re a true entrepreneur, you can’t survive having a normal job.”

I have news for you: Humans can survive all kinds of things, like being trapped in a mine for a month or cutting off an arm stuck under a rock. Likewise, people who are, want to be, or would rather be entrepreneurs can survive working for “The Man” when they have to (or want to!). That’s because when you’re an adult, sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do to pay your bills, support your family, or get affordable health insurance.

Our building is full of people who work for Keap and also run their own businesses. I have tons of friends who hold part-time jobs while nurturing their fledgling businesses. They are all some of the hardest working people on the planet. They are in no way less than or more than someone who chooses not to do the same. They ARE entrepreneurs.

“If you’re not out there making it happen and running a business, you’re not an entrepreneur, you’re a person with entrepreneurial tendencies and habits.”

Don’t resort to semantics to prove that those who are making it happen are in fact superior to those who are merely trying to make it happen. Working for someone else and getting out there trying to make it happen is one of the toughest things to do—you have split attention, divided energy, and fewer hours to make your business happen. Sure, it’s not ideal, but sometimes you’ve gotta feed your kids, pay off your student loans, or fix your water heater. 

“If I were still an aspiring entrepreneur, I would go out and hustle my face off in any way possible.”

I’m sorry—is the only way to hustle one’s face off to not be working for someone else? I would argue it takes even more dedication and hustle to do a job for someone else and hustle on the side. See above.

“Go work for free and under people that can show you the ropes and serve as a point of contact when you need it.”

This statement is oozing with so much entitlement I almost can’t even, but I’m going to. What a luxury to be able to work for free! How many of us can actually afford to do that, when the living wage for two working adults with two kids is $51,224 a year? Not to mention that if you want to live the “American dream,” you need $130,357 a year

Except Vaynerchuk suggests you go work for free “under people that can show you the ropes.”

Wait—so “real” entrepreneurs actually should work for people? It’s OK for you to work under someone if they don’t pay you, but if you work for someone who does pay you, that makes you not a “real” entrepreneur?

Vaynerchuk has addressed this before, saying that money isn’t the only way to pay for things. This time he says:

“Simply giving people the at-bat, the exposure, is an absolute way to compensate people.”

Oh, the dreaded “e” word—the great exposure myth. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard entrepreneurs bemoan the fact that people want to “pay” them in exposure. Guess what? Exposure doesn't pay the bills

Jon Acuff agrees with Vaynerchuk that when you’re just getting started, working for free is a good idea. So OK, maybe it’s something to prudently consider on a case-by-case basis.

But just remember that while there are times to take advantage of an exposure opportunity (like for charity or maybe with a group of like-minded individuals) exposure is a vicious cycle. Yes, potential “clients” can come to you and say the budget is “tight” (aka nonexistent), but there’s a reason “clients” keep setting “tight” budgets: because people keep agreeing to work for free. 

But let’s break it down: don’t work for anyone else + work for free = real entrepreneur. So where is the money for your life coming from? It’s a very select and privileged subset of people who could afford to do this. 

“Bottom line is this: start hustling. Do whatever it takes. Even if that means selling the shirt off your back.” 

This is a very bold, noble sentiment. Hustle has definitely been glamorized with the rise of the entrepreneur. And if you want to sell the shirt off your back to make your business work, well, great! You have my true respect and admiration.

But it’s a pretty tone-deaf, blanket statement to make. What if you’re a middle-aged entrepreneur with kids—is the only way for you to hustle to sell the shirt off your back and stop paying for daycare? This idea completely disregards the very real segment of people who are in this position; to write off the true sacrifices they make—like holding down a job they’d prefer not to have to literally keep the lights on—is diminishing and blind. 

Bottom line: It’s irresponsible to romanticize the notion of gambling everything to make it. Why are you successful only if you gamble everything and win?  What about the people who gambled and lost—are they not worth respecting? Are they not entrepreneurs? Getting knocked down once or twice or ten times doesn’t mean you’ll never get back up—but you may need some income in the meantime. Why is rejecting a job and building your business somehow more virtuous than slowly and steadily building a business while you work for someone—can’t they be equally revered? What about the entrepreneurs who seek out corporate jobs in order to gain skills that will help them in their small businesses? Doesn’t the willingness to take time to learn something while working for someone else make you especially savvy?

Why is the notion of sacrificing everything so idealized? When did the notion of hustling become some self-righteous entrepreneurial ne plus ultra?

Again, there is nothing wrong with putting everything you have into your business and sacrificing—it’s how our own company got started. But it’s not the only way to build your business.

And it’s not the only way to be an entrepreneur. 

I’m here to tell you this: whatever hustle you’re hustling; whatever gambles you’re taking—even the ones you lose; no matter who you do or don’t work for; however you’re making it happen, you are an entrepreneur, and you have every reason to be proud of that. Say it with me, "I am an entrepreneur." Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. 

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