The Accidental Entrepreneur

Innate desire to make a dent in the universe + repeatedly getting punched in the face by a problem + decision to stop getting punched in the face = entrepreneur. 

I just came back from the Dublin Web Summit, where 3000 Internet entrepreneurs in all shapes, sizes colors, religions and nationalities gathered to geek out for a few days in Ireland.   With so much diversity of ideas, cultures and belief systems floating around, it made me wonder if there are any common traits that make up an entrepreneur.

As far I as can tell the only common theme that runs through all leaders (be it political, business, educational, humanitarian) is an innate desire to do cool shit — to make a dent in the universe  and leave the planet a tiny bit better than they found it.

I think entrepreneurs share this same desire.  I don’t know any entrepreneurs who started off their career seeking entrepreneurship as an end unto itself.  Rather, I’ve found that almost all good entrepreneurs tend to be accidental entrepreneurs.  That is – they didn’t choose entrepreneurship.  Entrepreneurship chose them.

Accidental entrepreneurs are often people who were making a dent in the universe in all sorts of professions before they were ever entrepreneurs.  They might have been teachers (like Daphne Koller of Coursera), or film producers (like Jim Gilliam of Nation Builder) or consultants (like Ryan Howard of Practice Fusion), but then one day they encountered a problem that punched them square in the face. And this problem kept punching them in the face day in and day out, consuming their every thought, until they had no choice but to put everything else aside and start punching back. At this moment in time, whether it was their intention or not, they become an entrepreneur.  This is just one definition.  In the comments, I’d love to hear how you guys define an entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurship is getting punched in the face by a problem enough times that you finally decide to punch back



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11 thoughts on “The Accidental Entrepreneur

  1. Ben Kosinski says:

    Great post. I think most people are hit with punches every day, but most people tend to forget about it, push it aside for next week or next month, or figure someone else will solve the problem….it’s human nature. I think what defines and separates this from entrepreneurs is that when they get punched, they actually do something about it; feeling as though punching back at this problem has now become an all encompassing mission in your life, constantly trying to figure out how to land that KO.

    • ethanaustin1 says:

      I think you are right. The more I think about it, the defining characteristic might not be an innate desire to make a dent, but rather the decision to punch back. Curious what other people think.

  2. I like to think of that quote by James Murphy- “The best way to complain is to make things.” That’s sort of how I got here. Complaining doesn’t work, so why not try and do something about it.

  3. I suppose I was lucky in the sense that I was never punched in the face with a problem, but I can definitely relate to your sentiment, “they didn’t choose entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship chose them.” I was just doing what I loved, tinkering with computers and figuring out how to fix a variety of problems, when people demanded that I accept money from them and provide them with business cards to share with their friends.

  4. […] do, this is what I love. If I am an entrepreneur I fall into the ‘accidental’ category, suggested here by the founder of GiveForward, Ethan […]

  5. Anonymous says:

    Good article. Ive just forwarded the link to my buddy|.

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