Is entrepreneurship inheritable?
June 26, 2007 12:19 PM   Subscribe

Is entrepreneurship inheritable?

I feel like unless I am running my own business, in some way, I'm not doing things right or at least nor living up to my potential. I'm not sure where I got this idea from but my father was a self-employed entrepreneur his whole life. I understand my current office job is stable in a way my own theoretical business could never be, but this does bug me.

I can either try to stop thinking about it or perhaps start a side-business, but I'm afraid if I do the latter I might just feeding an unhealthy part of me.

Do the children of the self-employed feel the need to do the same? Is this common? Am I romanticizing something that is high-risk? Thanks.
posted by damn dirty ape to Work & Money (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I ran my own business once. It was the best and worst experience I ever had. At this point in my life I'm content making a decent salary at an interesting job working for the man. Word of advice: don't partner with friends.
posted by DefendBrooklyn at 12:28 PM on June 26, 2007

a small business with a well written business plan should not be any higher risk than the day job you're in now

you probably saw the fruits of entrepreneurship (more personal freedom, decision making ability, sense of accomplishment), and probably lived through some of the negatives (more responsibiliity, longer hours and sometimes higher stress) and this is why you're probably feeling conflicted.

If done properly, and the business is something you're passionate about and enjoy doing, then I think it can be a better bet than working for the man as a big cog in his wheel....

if your father is still around talk to him about your desires..and seek out small business seminars in your area, there are lots of nonprofit and government affiliated groups that sponsor classes and seminars that are specifically designed for helping people like yourself, who are asking "is a small business right for me?"

start with the Small Business Administration or better yet, SCORE

remember, most great businesses started out with a nervous, unsure person who had the bug to be an entrepreneur...but that person went ahead and succeeded!
posted by Salvatorparadise at 12:31 PM on June 26, 2007

I don't think it's "inheritable" in a genetic sense, but it's a "nurture" thing. If you see self-employed people while you're growing up who have a lot of freedom, money, or other desirable traits or circumstances, then that's going to plant a seed!

It certainly happened this way between my father and me. His profession didn't interest me at all, but I totally loved he could stay at home all day (if he wanted), he could choose his own hours, etc, and not be a wageslave. I left school, tried full-time work for several months, just for balance, and have been self-employed ever since.
posted by wackybrit at 12:40 PM on June 26, 2007

a small business with a well written business plan should not be any higher risk than the day job you're in now

I think this statement is very far from the truth. If you own a business, the risk is on you. The business is in your name. If the business you happen to work for goes under, it's MUCH easier to isolate yourself from that.
posted by mkultra at 12:44 PM on June 26, 2007

While thinking owning a business or being self-employed is great, don't take my enthusiasm as a recommendation. mkultra is on the money. It's a big risk.

Depending on what you do in your business, and how well the business does, you may get stuck in a situation where you always have to be on call and it's almost impossible to ever take a vacation, or even go out to dinner without being cagey. These things are hard to predict in advance, but what happens when you have X customers, enough money to live on well but not enough money to hire employees? You're basically trapped.
posted by wackybrit at 12:48 PM on June 26, 2007

My Mom, before she retired, was self-employed. My Dad was a sort of semi-rebellious almost-top-of-the-food-chain company man. I think both of them instilled in me an unwillingness to put up with a lot of the typical daily grind that to many people is the normal part of having a regular job. I make a joke of it sometimes and say I'm unemployable but the truth of the matter is that both my parents sort of defined their own employment path to a much larger degree than many other people that I know. I grew up expecting to do the same. To be able to do a good job and get compensated for it and have that be that.

However, I am frequently frustrated when what I think I'm going to be able to do at a job doesn't match up with what I am actually able to get done at a job. This gap often seems to be to be due in large part to a lot of these daily grind issues that are a huge often insurmountable deal for me (workplace politics and politicking, being nickled and dimed over a few minutes on a schedule, sexism in the workplace, dress code concerns, holiday nonsense, rituals and practices that offend or insult me) leaving me unable to focus on my work.

I think a lot of people are more able to let things like this roll off of their backs and they are more comfortable and/or happy in a more regular job than I would be. I have also managed to hammer out a lifestyle for myself that works given my constraints, but it's a weird set of solutions. If I needed to have a straight 9 to 5 job I would suck it up and do it, but it would be not something I'd be happy about and neither of my (now retired) parents could give me decent advice on how to go about it, at least not from their own experience.
posted by jessamyn at 12:54 PM on June 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

contra wackybrit, aside from various environmental factors there maybe something of risk tolerance that we inherit genetically, and people who are more risk tolerant gravitate towards entrepreneurship...
posted by stratastar at 1:00 PM on June 26, 2007

I read a (really stupid, so I'm not going to link it) article in one of San Francisco's society-page "news"papers the other day that, despite all those caveats, made the interesting point that those great entrepreneurs who create family businesses have to, if they want the business to stay in the family, completely stamp out the entrepreneurial spirits of their children. Instead of fostering a sense of adventure and risk, parents should focus on instilling qualities that lead to stable, sound management -- an enterprise needs entrepreneurship to start, middle management to continue. You don't want the second generation to be taking risks that put your life's work in peril.

Since wealthy risk-taking parents apparently needed to be reminded to encourage such stability in their kids, it would lead me to the conclusion that it's likely that entrepreneurial parents do often pass along those values to their kids; I wouldn't think genetically, but just in the way that they pass along ideas about morality or the importance of education or other values, by teaching kids to value those things that they themselves value.
posted by occhiblu at 1:21 PM on June 26, 2007

The thing is, working 9 to 5 for a salary is a bit unnatural. I think of "being entrepreneurial" as removing a safety harness that people put on themselves, rather than having some unfathomable ambition or drive. Since you grow up in that sort of environment, it's understandable that you wouldn't necessarily say "time to go get a salaried job" without considering all your options.
posted by lubujackson at 2:25 PM on June 26, 2007

I'm pretty sure it IS inheritable simply because a majority of us have no earthly idea how to start and run our own businesses. That knowledge has to come from somewhere.
posted by Willie0248 at 2:40 PM on June 26, 2007

I've seen a few families that seem to pass entrepreneurial genes through the generations, and the conclusion I've come to is that they're actually passing contacts, networks, and maybe some capital. Family friends become business associates, investors, customers, etc. The dad whose business was successful is able to help his son out with some startup costs, and maybe even pass on some advice. But I honestly think that the people connections are far more important than the money.
posted by vytae at 2:58 PM on June 26, 2007

I am the child of an entrepreneur, and I certainly feel the drive to become one (in a way) myself. Of course, the field I picked is kinda a back-asswards way of getting into the whole "self employed" thing, but I know I'll do it someday. My mother gave me a keen sense of economics and management, and I intend to use it to my advantage. My oldest brother feels the same way I do. However, my middle brother is perfectly happy working for the Man (in his case, the gov't).

I think it is a mix of genetics (inteligence and will-power) and environment (parental influence and potential freedom). It also probably has something to do with appeasing your parents with your career decision, which factors into many people's lives. Just as some become doctors or lawyers because their parents value stability, some will become self employed because their parents value entrepreneurship.
posted by nursegracer at 4:10 PM on June 26, 2007

Well, creating your own company is introducing something new into the world—it's a creative venture. In that sense, I'd say embarking upon an entrepreneurial or other creative venture makes more of your potential than a corporate or retail or management job working for The Man does, 'cause you're bringing something new into the world.

That said, I'm also the child of two artists, so my perspective on the daily grind is similar to jessamyn's. My mother, a potter, bought and then built up a successful pottery supply business that doubled in value over the six years she owned it, at which point she sold it to raise me and my brother and continue pursuing her ceramics work. She currently spends most days creating artwork, playing the flute in local bands and [is soon to return to] teaching. My father, a disabled veteran and once-talented illustrator, developed glaucoma and lost the ability to create artwork or drive, so he's concentrated on investing his disability checks in bonds and the stock market, as well as planting trees and flowers to beautify the neighborhood.

The upshot of this upbringing? Well, my brother, who only just graduated from high school, already has a successful stock portfolio. He's long been interested in entrepreneurship, and came up with a number of business ideas throughout his teens. He also does a lot of film work, writing and gardening, and currently thinks he wants to be a forester someday. As for me, since graduating from college I've been freelance copy editing for several local publications, writing a little and working part-time at a bookstore. I'm probably not going to crack the $20,000 mark this year, but damned if I'm not comfortable—more comfortable than when I was growing up, in fact.

What I've learned from my family is this: you don't need a lot of money to live well, provided you save and invest a reasonable amount. And you certainly don't need—and can pretty easily find a more fulfilling way to make money than—a 9-to-5 job.
posted by limeonaire at 4:31 PM on June 26, 2007 [2 favorites]

Also: One of the books that best helped me develop a conception of what it means to be an entrepreneur and lead an independent life, as well as how aptitudes and interests and even jobs can trickle down through the generations, was Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. It's fiction, but it provides so much insight into the kinds of things you're asking about.
posted by limeonaire at 4:37 PM on June 26, 2007

I grew up in a small business. It's a successful one, still around today, but even so, the day-to-day uncertainty of it has caused me to view the idea of having my own business with nothing but fear and nausea.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 5:52 PM on June 26, 2007

No. Don't confuse familialism with heritability.
posted by OmieWise at 6:35 PM on June 26, 2007

For what it's worth, I grew up in an extremely uptight blue/pink-collar family, and I just quit my job to pursue things that make me happier. I don't believe that 9-to-5 behind a desk is what I was born and destined to do.

This is the way I look at it. You only get one turn at life. I'm already in my 30s and have worked stable jobs that deadened my creativity and happiness for my entire life. But if the only reason I stay in a job like that is out of fear of the unknown, that is just not a good enough reason for me anymore. And let me tell you, since I gave my notice I have felt completely different. I have cleaned my apartment thoroughly and started playing music again. I constructed an entire website based on my art and I've been writing. Ideas have been coming to me like never before. I feel free and happy.

While I pursue a freelance career in my art of choice, I'm going to temp. I'm asking for only short-term assignments where possible. I need the variety and the lack of investment in a workplace, so that I can put that energy toward the things I truly care about. I think -so far- that this has been the absolute right thing to do. The hardest part was quitting my job. I have been conditioned and raised to value comfort over risk and change. But that's not who I am, so I'm going to take the risks and make the changes. I'm broke at the moment, but I have credit for times like this. And more importantly, I feel like I'm starting to live on my own terms, and I'm so excited for the future. My happiness just can't fit into a wallet. Maybe there's something in my story for you.
posted by loiseau at 6:52 PM on June 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think, for some, it is genetic. You need traits, born into you, to be a this type of person... to understand a plan/concept in your gut and then take it to the next level. Case in point, my great, great, great Grandfather- entrepreneur (came over on a boat and set up shop). Great, great Grandfather- entrepreneur. Great Grandfather- entrepreneur. Grandfather & Grandmother both entrepreneurs. My father: entrepreneur and then there is me- entrepreneur and inventor. I think there is a gene that pre-disposes you to this sort of work and this type of thinking- you are born wired for it and to take the genetic theory a step further, humanity needs these sort of people- thus a genetic connection. These folks are more genetically inclined to give it a shot because they need to be present in the mix to keep the human race going forward.
In my family, each case, each man or man and woman started their own business and either sold them or died running them. Each business was different. Nothing was handed down but some business ideas were built upon and augmented to different heights or lines of business.
In my case it was never mentioned that I would be the person I became, my Dad started out in the military... but when the day came and I had to begin my career, it all came naturally. I was well into adulthood before I learned of my lineage and it made me wonder about the quesiton you just posted today.
So, take it for what it is worth. I believe there is something in the genetic mix that is at work.
posted by bkeene12 at 8:01 PM on June 26, 2007

I did not have a regular salary or paycheck for the first 15 years of my career after college. It was always a percentage of trading profits. I made what I made and came and went as i wanted. It was great. Then, I was offered a position with no more risk with a guaranteed amount of money that was 80% of what I made the year before. I took it. I have been struggling to break away from the comfort of a guaranteed income (salary) versus the physical and psychological freedom working for myself provided.

I think the ability to be an entrepreneur is inherited in that it is environmental. It is formed in the early years of your life. It can be learned later, but usually after you can afford to take risk. The environment in which you are raised is what forms your thought process and ability to accept risk. I saw my father taking risk and both succeeding and failing. Every time, the only question he asked himself was, "Did I do my best and give 100%?" Of course he checked the foundation of his decision making, but he understood risk and accepted it without letting it get him down. He never risked more than he could slightly uncomfortably lose. He never risked the mortgage money so to speak. My mother always encouraged my brothers and I to think for ourselves and to make decisions independent of what others were thinking and independent from conventional wisdom IF that is what we believed.

The benefits and drawbacks of that was that early on, I had more faith in my own decisions than in working for someone whose decisions I did not trust. I struggled in my high school part time jobs because I thought I knew better how to do the tasks than my manager; better than the years of refinement the franchise put into it.

While I agree that part of it is having the knack for planning, executing a plan and having vision, at the same time it is critical to be dynamic in your decisions and go with the flow. Some of my best opportunities came when I wasn't looking. Meeting the right person at the right time, that sort of thing.

Lastly, I think having the proper support in place is critical too. My wife has always been supportive of my ventures and has never pressed me for more financial stability or structure. This despite the fact she came from a very traditional family where working for the man was admirable. Having your own business or being entrepreneurial is so difficult in and of itself that having to fight an additional battle with an nonsupporting family makes the odds of success virtually nil.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:47 PM on June 26, 2007

I only just realised that almost everyone in my family, on both sides, going back generations, worked for themselves. Not always hugely successfully, but certainly not terribly. Every day I work for The Man, and until I realised this I wondered why having the great money trick played on me every day drives me absolutely fucking nuts when other people genuinely don't mind.

But the thing I love doing requires huge printing presses to pull off, and they're not cheap. Yet. So all the extra value I add goes to the fine shareholders of a bird-like corporation.
posted by bonaldi at 8:47 PM on June 26, 2007

I know I'm late to this party, but Entrepreneurship is my thing. My website is in my profile.

In my experience, either you're an entrepreneur or you're not. There are people who would like to be entrepreneurial, but really don't have the risk tolerance for it. There are many other reasons for entrepreneurship not to work for a given person, but this seems to be the big one.

There are also many people with an entrepreneurial mindset who are working for someone else. Many of these people are unhappy and don't realize that this is a big reason.

No one here can tell you if you're an entrepreneur or if you're not. No one can tell you if you've inherited the qualities you'll need to launch a business, or a mindset that will leave you most fulfilled working in your own ventures.

You are the captain of your ship, and the best anyone else can do is help you toward discovery.

That said, may a recommend a book?

Michael Gerber's E-Myth Revisited is my number-one recommendation.

I could suggest scores of books, but this one can help you understand what entrepreneurship is about, what kind of entrepreneur you are (or aren't), and how to begin things right if entrepreneurship is for you.

And may I also, humbly, suggest my own website.

But seriously. Read the E-Myth. You'll learn about yourself, and you really need that right now.

If E-Myth leaves you thirsting for more, here are some other great authors in the category:

Seth Godin
Jim Collins
Keith Ferrazzi
Guy Kawasaki

I sincerely hope you find your calling and live it.
posted by SlyBevel at 3:53 PM on June 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

« Older 4th of July Barbecue in Los Angeles   |   Can you help me build the perfect piece of... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.