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NO–Being an Entrepreneur–Well, Not Just Yet…

“There is an infinite amount of money out there.” HBS Professors are always stating: “Follow your passion, be an entrepreneur.” But the reality of the situation is quite different. This is why I chose to put off my entrepreneurial ventures in these uncertain times.

For a guy who wants to start a Space Tourism company one day, my job choice for next year seems a bit strange: Associate at McKinsey & Company in Los Angeles.

It seems even more odd when you consider that over and over again during my Entrepreneurial Finance and International Entrepreneurship classes, superstar professors urge the class to just go out and start a company. Protagonists join the chorus: the founder of Pixamo told us this week that he offered co-founder positions to three HBS students in 2006 who turned him down for “safe” (ha ha) jobs at Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers, and a Consulting firm – only to sell his company for millions of dollars within months.

Am I working for “The Man” next year because I do not have any ideas? Nope, that’s not it. I have a folder on my hard drive full of various business plans, some of which are legitimate and will be revisited in the future, and some of which were created on too little sleep and will not be transferred over to any future laptops (“BlingAdvise” . you get the gist). I am doing an Independent Study and Research (ISR) project that could result in a very profitable website, I partnered with a great management team from a nightclub in New York on an idea for an innovative nightlife option in Las Vegas, and just this past week I began brainstorming a high-end adventure getaway that has everyone I have spoken to excited.

Unfortunately, I just could not bring myself to take that entrepreneurial leap. for now.

I honestly believe that being an entrepreneur is not a vocation, but rather a calling. You know you’re an entrepreneur if. doing a search fund sounds incredible one day and incredibly boring the next. Seriously. Get the details once the initial euphoria washes off. You know you’re an entrepreneur if. at some point someone suggested a “combination washer/dryer” to you and you thought, “Hey, why hasn’t anyone done that yet?” (They have. It’s a bad idea.) You know you’re an entrepreneur if. your family members stay up until 1am reading, commenting on, and forwarding around your executive summaries despite the fact that the chances of you actually turning this particular idea into a business is less than that of Duke winning a National Championship this year (play some defense, geez!).

I once asked my Entrepreneurial Finance professor how you could raise money in this economic environment, and he responded, “There is an infinite amount of money out there.” He is absolutely right. Harvard may have lost about $10 billion, but there is $20 billion still left in the mattress. Similarly, while firms and high net-worth individuals have definitely become more cautious, they have not turned off the funding spigot completely; the capital that is available needs to be put to work, and you might just be the person who has that great idea that starts the flow of coin.

Despite this realization, I struggled for a few months over whether or not to accept my job offer to return to the firm before realizing that I would not be fully comfortable striking out on my own amid this uncertainty. It is not that trying the entrepreneurial life and failing would be a bad thing – sure, there would be a few months dusting off the old bedroom in the charming Chateau des Parents Hotel where the food is catered by Chili’s and the DVR always seems to be recording House, Grey’s Anatomy, and whatever other derivative medical shows that are destroying network television, but the lessons learned would have been valuable and would certainly have positioned me for better success in the future.

But at the end of the day (or more accurately, the end of the offer deadline), I decided that a dream deferred is not a dream denied. Will I continue to think up iPhone apps (such as audio-guided user-generated GPS walking tours for whatever people want to share with the world . my gift to you, HBS), new ways to use composite metal technologies, and software platforms to link academic research to companies that can benefit from the findings before they are published in journals? Sure I will, and I’ll probably send frantic emails to friends and family yelling, “This thing will be huge. get back to me right now!” But I will be doing that while I am working for a good firm, with a good income, and I will be confident and better-trained when I decide to actually pursue one of these visions – likely in a few years.

Does that make me a wimp? Fine. Yes, it does. I never thought of myself as scared to take risks – hint, if you ever go skydiving, listen to the instructor so you do not spin wildly out of control when you exit the plane – but I also did not buy the idea that every entrepreneur succeeds wildly, as the selection bias of HBS case protagonists would imply. I have neither admiration nor contempt for my classmates who are taking the plunge into the icy cold economic abyss armed only with business plan in hand; that is simply a decision that they felt comfortable making, and I didn’t. But I sleep well knowing that in a couple decades my Space company will be open for business (motto: “The Sky is No Longer the Limit”). For now, I am taking the stable road – the one fairly well-traveled – and while it may not be quite as adventuresome, it will still get me there. To me, dear Frost, it is the final destination that makes all the difference.

March 2, 2009
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