In the unremitting quest to discover the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, are we stunting the very thing that we are trying to feed?
By Daniella Sachs
What comes to mind when you see the word ‘entrepreneur’? Do you immediately think of the giant tech icons like Steve Jobs (Apple), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), or Sergey Brin (Google)? Or of the social media wonderkids — Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Jack Dorsey (Twitter) or Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn)? Or perhaps it’s the sharing economy archetypes of Brian Chesky (AirBnb) and Travis Kalanick (Uber) that pop into your mind. No matter who it is that surfaces, one thing is for certain; these founder stories have become the modern day fairytales ruling our generation.
In these unicorn-filled stories, the tech kingdom reigns supreme, and legends abound of elite (insert prestigious school here) networks and ‘Midas funders’. We are taught that if we want to enter these glossy halls of entrepreneurship, we need to emulate the heroes who have come before us.
The problem with striving to model these ‘knights in shining armour’ is that we have created a fairytale formula for entrepreneurship. Just look at the many tech start-up competitions and incubators around and you will see a never-ending host of cookie-cutter challenges seeking to find the next ‘AirBnb of …’, ‘Uber of …’, ‘Booking.com of …’ etc.
What if, in the unremitting quest to discover the next paint-your-unicorn-by-numbers, we are stunting the very thing that we are trying to feed?
This question is one that has started to keep me up at night. You see, my entrepreneur journey has been fraught with fairytale-induced demons of unworthiness. And as I have had to rally my strength to face and battle each one, I have come to realise that I am not alone in my struggle to ‘belong’. I have met so many entrepreneurs who are battling to fit the hero mould; so many entrepreneurs who are giving up on their visions and missions; and so many more who are shying away from even daring to take the first step.
Our heroes did not create what was done before them; they forged the new ground that is our current reality. They were the ultimate disruptive, creative innovators.
I hear you think to yourself that this may not be such a bad thing. For, surely, only those who fit the investor-worthy fairytale formula should succeed. But have you ever stopped to wonder how many world-changing entrepreneurs are slipping through the cracks because they don’t fit this Silicon Valley framework? Or how many incredibly creative and innovative solutions are falling by the wayside because they don’t neatly fit into the box of sanctioned disruption?
Yet, the funny thing is that back in the day of our heroes, we lauded the same free-thinking, dreaming and imagining that we limit today. Our heroes did not create what was done before them; they forged the new ground that is our current reality. They were the ultimate disruptive, creative innovators.
Somehow, somewhere along the way, as we inculcated their stories as lore, we lost this perspective. And in its place, we adopted an obsession with the ‘ultimate pitch’ to secure series funding. And this funding, in turn, is only granted to those who follow the safe investor-friendly formula. While there is nothing wrong with building businesses based on proven frameworks, when we force all entrepreneurship into this yoke, we inhibit the very innovation we are seeking to nurture.
How many world changing entrepreneurs are we going to lose before we are brave enough to disrupt entrepreneurship by putting creative innovation first? This is the question and challenge I lay down before you. The cookie-cutter business builders are going to continue copying and pasting what has been done before. They don’t need you. The people who do need you are the ones who are bravely trying to break new ground. It is the ones that many call crazy. It is the ones that dare to be different. Do not let them sink silently into the night, for these are the entrepreneurs that we need to re-imagine our future.
Daniella Sachs is a multidisciplinary tourism innovation expert, disruptor, Africanist and thought leader who publishes regularly on why we need to change the way we think about tourism. She is the co-founder of Know Your Tourist, a travel and tourism design and innovation house that collaborates with visionary business builders to bring bold new travel and tourism ideas to life.
Some of the many thought-provoking topics she has written on include: