Monday, September 19, 2016


Champagne or embalming included in the venture


This short book is practical and pragmatic. It is trying to identify the specificities of entrepreneurs, focusing on startup entrepreneurs. The author does not negate the fact that there can be entrepreneurs in big companies and in institutionalized entities, but he is really concerned by those who work on their own.

He is clear about them not being freelance workers. These are just satisfying a pre-existing demand from the market in some stand-alone initiative. They do not create a company and he says they do not take risks, and particularly financial risks, meaning they do not invest that much. We could and should discuss that point. He does not contrast entrepreneurs and self-employed people. But he would say that they do not create anything since they just practice a trade that exists with a high level of demand for it on the market but once again on a stand-alone initiative. This time though there may be a high level of investment and many of these are like artisans of some sort, the difference being an artisan can hire someone to work for him or her whereas a self-employed person cannot hire anyone apart from himself or herself.

If we understand entrepreneur with that meaning, someone who starts a startup business with borrowed money on an idea that is not yet satisfied on the market, hence inventing a product or a service that is new and risky since it has not been in existence and experimentation before, or if it had it was a failure. The risks are important: financial, personal and even economic including for the employees the entrepreneur will hire. Note, and that has to be clearly said, this word is originally French. It does not have a feminine form (it would be slightly politically incorrect). And it does not have at all the meaning it has in French. The word has been borrowed, translated into a new meaning. The most common meaning in French is “entrepreneur de pompes funèbres,” which means mortician.

The book is characterized by a style and I think the author is not aware of it. It uses innumerable ternary structures and patterns. It is quite obvious the author wants to avoid the binary simple thinking of everyday life and ordinary people for whom everything is either-or, or neither-nor. Systematically, but not all the time, the structures and patterns are ternary like some kind of syllogism.

But of course the content is essential. I am going to insist on a few elements.

The first one is that this entrepreneur’s responsibility and project require a lot of imagination, a vision as the author calls it, that has to be all-powerful, almighty. The vision has to do with something new and the desire to implement it in order to change the world, change people, and make a profit, though the profit is not the main motivation, supposedly. The vision is. The author is obviously speaking of startups that produce objects that can be sold on the market. He does not consider services so much. If he had considered education for example he would have easily seen how narrowly controlled it is in institutionalized education but he would also have seen that a startup in education is just as much controlled as the institutionalized service because to start an educational business you have to get permits, you have to submit to inspections and all kinds of administrative injunctions and censorship, even if you are working with adults. As for that the Church of Scientology has tried education all over the world and in every country they have been obliged to conform to some norms and procedures that often neutralized their project, not to mention how they have been sued in some countries, particularly in France.

Imagination and vision are beautiful but they are hunted down by anything bureaucratic and administrative. In many cases startups can only exist, in some countries, as exceptions and in some zones where they are literally ghettoized. I understand it may be different in the US. But startups are not an American only phenomenon. But it is true that Amazon or Ali Baba would never have been able to develop from a European country, any European country. They were startups originally, like Google or even Microsoft and Apple.

Why is it so? For the fact that a startup entrepreneur is submitted to four lines of stress as the author says, four lines of stress that are rejected by most people in European countries dreaming of a workless society (  And he lines up 1- demanding, requiring sustained effort and the deployment of resources; 2- his or her lack of skills and abilities to perform various tasks; 3- constant changes in the products and services; 4- balancing work and private life. This stress comes from the effort but also the fact the resources are borrowed, often on a short term basis and some returns are expected fast. It comes from the necessity to hire people to perform what he or she cannot do by himself or herself and then he/she has to be responsible for these people since he/she becomes an employer. When you deal with avant-garde products and the services attached to these products change is the norm and often no one knows ahead of time what direction that change will go. Think of the successive versions of Windows, or of the iPad. And think of the stress created by the demand from the customers that their old machines or software could be updated or upgraded to the new machine or software, which is not the interest of the industrialist who wants to sell every year new machines and software to the same people, as if they were a captive audience. For such entrepreneurs private life is becoming evanescent, episodic, like some wasted periods in the constant flow of necessities and inspiration.

At this point I would like to say the book would be a lot more interesting if the author had given some real cases to illustrate what it says, to put some flesh on the bones.

And these four forms of stress lead to four constant and heavy obligations. You have to solve all problems by yourself. You have to learn new things every day or look for some help from the unknown outside world. You have to change your product or your service day after day: it is never finished if you want to satisfy the client's demands that are anyway unpredictable. And finally you have to cultivate special times like vacation periods, escape capers, as if it were some pepper in the soup of enslaving startup entrepreneurship. Here I would say an entrepreneur has to be super open to the public when dealing with the market and in his private life he has to be extremely easygoing and open to the partners and the needs they have and don’t always express. I seem to think in a way this accumulation of stresses and obligations might develop some autistic dimension in startup entrepreneurs (or use such a dimension pre-existing in the entrepreneur), what the Buddhist call onepointedness, one objective, one perspective, one trail to both blaze and follow.

The worst stress is that an entrepreneur has to have a very strict planning and yet be open to opportunities and imagination. How can he or she be? It is asking water to burn or fire to be cold. Feedback is important. How can he/she integrate it in a strict plan? And in spite of all the author has one moment of binary thinking when he reduces the intellectual stance of entrepreneurs to being both convergent (bring many things together) and divergent (imagine many things from one starting point). He is trapped by the words convergent-divergent that do not have a third element. Convergence is what some call induction, the imagination of one outcome from the consideration of an array or elements, a strong feeling, a conviction that this is the outcome of the multiple situation considered at one time. Only the future can prove the entrepreneur is right or wrong with his/her own succeeding or failing. Divergence is more a deduction than anything else. From a situation A we deduct it should produce a result B. We can demonstrate the truth of the deduction, though the real proof comes from practice, and yet Einstein was right long before it could be proved right in the cosmos.

But there is a third solution the author does not consider because he considers entrepreneurs, people who want to control the future, their future. The Buddhists have a concept that brings up this third stance that I call subduction. The accumulation of knowledge, of facts, of problems, of data in general enables something to emerge from this Brownian soup without anyone controlling it. Big data brings up the idea that we can predict the future by a set of probabilities. This outcome will be true for 85% of reality, but it will also be false for 15% of the same reality. Big data is the way machines think but how can we explain that the minority choice here and there wins and dominates. How can we explain obvious populist candidates or options in some elections win when big data tells us populist ideas are always defeated, in the long run. An entrepreneur could follow a fad or some popular trend, but how can he be successful in the long run if he only follows fads and popular trends?

If an entrepreneur is to be “self-confident, optimistic, full of hope,” in two words “confident and resilient” as the author says, it is a cocktail that seems to be rather rare in real life. Is it enough to “learn to trust your instincts”? Certainly not, because it is NOT instinct but visionary illumination, or, in Buddhist terms, “samsara,” that is to say the existential consciousness of the subductive genesis of emerging possibilities. Hence “to jump in the deep end” is not enough. You have to jump into it from the top diving board at least ten meters over the water or even from the top of a cliff into the ocean 25 or 30 meters lower. You must have the wanderlust gene ( somewhere.

You may then satisfy the five requirements proposed by the author: “1- Things become subject to evaluation; 2- Decisions seem less scary; 3- Problems become less intimidating [and you become open to] Creative problem solving; 4- People become more important; 5- Ideas cease to be fleeting.” And you will experience vertigo in front of this abyss of requirements and possible achievements. Have a good trip across the wasteland of Mars, alone like the Martian of some fame. There is a fair share of “luck” necessary in that adventure, and particularly the luck of not meeting with some tigers, those “tygers, tygers burning bright” William Blake liked so much.


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