Why All Successful Entrepreneurs Are Privileged
Unsavory truths about successful entrepreneurs and how they got there.
There’s a lot of chest-puffing that happens in entrepreneurship.
For most, the chest-puffing still happens when things are truly going like sh*t for the entrepreneur.
It even happens when there’s complete chaos happening behind the scenes in the business.
To everyone watching, it seems like things are flowing superbly from the outside. It gives the impression to other entrepreneurs that it’s easy running a business, or that things will get easier for the business once my business looks like that person’s.
There are many wonderful aspects and benefits to entrepreneurship, but there are equally pretty unsavory truths about becoming a successful entrepreneur that not many people talk about.
This is what I’m here to do today — to share the unsavory truths that may shatter the romantic veneer of being an entrepreneur, but will give a clear, more accurate image of what it’s really like when no one is applauding.
Startup grit requires a dash of privilege
There are plenty of books on entrepreneurial journeys like The Hard Thing About Hard Things and Shoe Dog that attribute one core principle to their individual successes — sticking it out the longest.
In other words, grit to keep the business going even when there was a raging fire that was about to run the whole business to the ground.
In my personal experience, and from what I know from my entrepreneur friends, there’s a collective thread of shared experience and acknowledgment that grit requires a dash of privilege.
It’s not straight drive and perseverance that helps an entrepreneur hit the 5-year mark in their business. It’s also the privilege of having a financial safety net, family who can lend you money, and social capital.
The wider your safety net, the more “grit” you can give to your business for multiple years.
I share this observation to address the large amount of shame that many new entrepreneurs feel when they aren’t able to give any more grit to their business after their cash flow runs dry — for those who have a fire in their bellies to keep growing their business, but have to take a part-time job to pay their bills. For those who have to press pause on the business because the financial realities of keeping it going are too harsh.
When you have to slow down or hit pause on grit because it’s financially not making sense, and you’re feeling shame about it because so many entrepreneurs seem like they don’t have to do this, give yourself some grace. Grit requires a dash of privilege.
You’ll introduce unrequited stress into your life
There’s a romantic element of being your own boss and running your own business. It’s empowering to have that much control over the direction of your life and deciding how and when you’ll make your money.
Here’s the unsavory part of it though — the amount of difficulty you introduce into your life is absurd. It’s wildly illogical at times. I can’t tell you how many twists and turns my life has taken that none of my non-entrepreneur friends have had to experience.
The experience definitely ages you with plenty of wisdom, but it also strains you. Do you know how long it took me to recover from my last stint of entrepreneur burnout? 3 years. It took 3 WHOLE years — that’s how unbelievably traumatized, stressed, and exhausted I was.
The depressing part of all this? The achievements and accomplishments (the ‘payouts’) you experience from entrepreneurship seldom make up for all the blood, sweat and tears. That’s how you know that you really love and are passionate about what you’re doing though — you still want in, even if the payout won’t make it worth it.
Funding your startup is all you
There’s definitely a lot of money out there when it comes to startup funding, but it’s not floating in the air for grabs. The money exists for those who already live in the social and family networks that have it, or find their way into those networks through strategic channels.
Leveraging strategic channels such as incubators, pitching competitions, investor events, etc. also require a dash of privilege in my opinion. How many people are able to take time off to go to these events and engage in multi-month engagements like incubators? Likely those who come from money or were put in a position to stow away a lot of money.
Startup funding is available to you, but only if you already see the channels in your periphery. You have to have existing bridges to the funding you’d like to acquire or have the time and financial runway to build those networks for yourself.
This is an unsavory truth for entrepreneurs who are avidly seeking funding for their business idea and don’t have the networks, social capital, or free time to pave a channel for themselves. Despite this truth though, it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to overcome, it’s just a cue to take a different road than previously planned.
With awareness of what is realistic and not after looking at one’s resources, this truth may actually redirect your energy away from avenues that may be a waste of time. If you don’t have the current connections to pitch for funding to investors for example, it would probably be a better use of your time to save up money to either self-invest, or make the time to leverage other strategic channels.
I hope that this post doesn’t come off as a depressing narrative on how entrepreneurship is reserved only for privileged individuals. I instead hope that it sheds light on how entrepreneurship has commonly been most available to those who are privileged and sparks internal and community dialogues on how to change this reality.
It’s only through awareness and dialogue that we can undo the infrastructures that keep entrepreneurship available to a specific type of privilege and prevents those without privilege from sharing the space.
Want to turn your startup chase into a victory lap? My Friday morning emails will help you get over your Crux.