Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Loners and Nerds: The Demographics of Entrepreneurship

A survey of 1,300 small business owners who were QuickBooks customers showed that 43% of entrepreneurs say they were loners as kids, 25% said they were nerds (in contrast to the 10% who considered themselves jocks, and the 1% who self-identified as bullies). In addition, only 23% of those surveyed had a business degree*.

To me, these statistics support my belief that outsiders tend to make better entrepreneurs. In the final analysis, entrepreneurship is somewhat irrational. If you want to make money, it's a heck of lot easier to do so on Wall Street (as a quant would say, the expected value is higher, and the variance a lot lower). And if you're an insider, it generally makes more sense to work the system and get Daddy or Uncle Charlie to name you Vice President.

Yet for outsiders, entrepreneurship can be the only way their talents and abilities will ever blossom and be appreciated. If you can grow your business, no one cares if you wear the right clothes or drive the right car. In fact, "The Millionaire Next Door" found that most American millionaires were frugal business owners who had never paid more than $300 for suit.

The interesting question is whether the rise of the Internet will change the prevalence and/or demographics of entrepreneurship. After all, in the old days, you were a nerd (or possibly suicidal) if you liked to play Dungeons & Dragons. Today, venture capitalists try to join your World of Warcraft guild. Has the Internet turned outsiders into insiders? After all, when gossip rags try to sex up the Valley, can we really maintain our outsider status (no matter how much trouble we had getting girls in high school)?

Those who know me well, know that I'm an optimist, so naturally I do believe that the Internet will help ease the pains of being an outsider AND increase the popularity of entrepreneurship. But what's your experience?

* I would find the survey article more compelling if they also included statistics on what proportion of the general population self-identified with the various categories. For example, if only 5% of the population has a business degree, that 23% may represent an expected figure. Or if 79% of Fortune 500 CEOs have a business degree, we might decided that entrepreneurs and corporate leaders are different breeds.

2 comments:

Ben Casnocha said...

In grammar school, I considered myself more of a loner. And yet I was voted Most Popular.

In high school, I considered myself more of a nerd, yet many in the school knew me as captain of basketball team.

I wonder if I'm an exception, or whether sometimes there is discongruity between what category you put yourself in versus what your peers think.

Chris said...

Ultimately, outsidership is a state of mind, not a status based on what you wear or who knows or doesn't know who you are.

Being captain of the basketball team doesn't preclude being a nerd whom various young women feel they need to break out of his shell.