This post was inspired by an article I read in HBR titled “Are Americans Enamored with the Wrong Kinds of Entrepreneurs?” and the recent “consultation” on small business tax reform.
The author of the HBR article goes on to provide a glowing review of the launch of FedEx by Fred Smith in 1971. The academic FedEx story summary goes something like this … from University paper to scale up in a few short years. However, much like Elaine in Seinfeld regarding the lobster bisque, the author yada, yada, yada’d over the best part of the FedEx story.
I am a huge fan of FedEx and the remarkable journey of Fred Smith in launching the venture. What the author of the HBR article neglected to mention was the twelve-year journey Fred Smith had before even launching FedEx. Fred Smith did three tours in Vietnam working for the USAF becoming familiar with airport logistics and maintenance. Upon returning to the US after his tours he took over Arkansas Air which he ran for a decade before starting FedEx. Fred Smith also had several business near death experiences in the early years of FedEx, including a desperate trip to Las Vegas with FedEx’s last $5,000 culminating in a bet on roulette to win enough money to meet payroll and keep the company afloat.
One final note is the paper Fred Smith wrote in University about the FedEx concept received a failing grade from his professor. It is usually a long difficult road from startup to scale up.
Anyway … back to my original question: “Is there a wrong type of entrepreneur?”
We should encourage all types of entrepreneurs, from solopreneurs to small business to high tech startups. Anyone willing to take the leap should be encouraged to do so and policy should reflect that. However, the unfortunate current reality may very well be an environment that not only discourages entrepreneurs, start-ups and small business but actively prohibits most people from taking the leap. When the country’s leading entrepreneurial supporters like Bruce Croxon and Arlene Dickinson are advocating for some sober second thought, perhaps our political leaders should listen and act accordingly.
All big businesses were small businesses first. In an age of precarious employment and significant social upheaval we should be encouraging more people to be economically self sufficient.
– Ian Graham