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When does an entrepreneur become an entrepreneur?

I recently tweeted this “thot”, which generated some debate on Facebook and Twitter. Some people agreed, others chastised me: “I thought you were above this snobbery, Davender”

Why the pushback? I believe this issue goes to the core of self-identity.

Let’s face it, entrepreneurship is the new black. It’s hot, it’s trendy, it’s what people want to be and who politicians want to be seen with. We want to be the winner, the brilliant innovator who strikes it rich while changing the world. We worship Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, the Sharks of Shark Tank and the Dragons of Dragons’ Den.

Why has entrepreneurship become the new religion? Maybe because it speaks to the libertarian/capitalist mindset promoted by the stunning financial successes of Silicon Valley. It’s about freedom and wealth with a touch of rebel.

Which is why a lot of people want to be seen by their peers as being entrepreneurs.

But when do you deserve to be called an entrepreneur?

  • Is it when you sign up for a MLM and buy your distributor pack?
  • Is it when you open a file on your computer and call it “Business Plan” (even though all you have written is the title?)
  • Is it when you buy the domain name, or print the business cards?
  • Is it when you attend your first Chamber of Commerce meeting or networking mixer?

Are you an entrepreneur if you’re self-employed? An artist? A consultant? An independent sub-contractor? Are you an entrepreneur if you’re still developing your product or still training to deliver your service? Are you an entrepreneur if you’re serving “practice client” pro-bono?

Pinpointing the moment when entrepreneurship starts is like trying to determine the moment a fetus becomes a human. You can point to any stage of the process and argue you’re right.

I posit that the pivot moment is when you make your first sale. And specifically, when you get paid for your first sale. Because the act of billing and being paid is what separates the entrepreneur from the salaried, who are just paid. The experience of receiving payment for an invoice which represents your hard work, and especially your ability to create a bridge of trust strong enough to make the sale, is a context shift which changes oneself profoundly.

I remember when I issued my first invoice. I spent at least a day on tweaking the Excel spreadsheet to make sure it was just right. Do I put my logo in the top left, or the top right? How many digits should the invoice number have? I can’t really start at 0001, it will make me seem like a newbie.

Then when I got paid, by check (because it was 1994), seeing my company name written in the “Pay to the order of” field gave me an additional boost of pride. I was real, I had arrived. (I think I made a photocopy of that first check, but I don’t know where I put it.)

All the work I had done before that day was important. But not the same. Because I was doing it for myself. When the contract was signed and I was building something for someone else who valued what I made, I felt different, more confident, more empowered. Instead of getting ready to do something for a generic “client”, I was now delivering to a person with a name and a face and a need they wanted fulfilled.

I struggled a lot in my first business because I sucked at sales. It wasn’t until I broke through that barrier by plunging head-first into Multi-Level-Marketing (with a certain level of success, may I add), that I understood the power of sales. Selling is indeed the highest level of leadership.

I stand by my declaration: the first sale is when you become an entrepreneur. Anything before that, you’re a “wantrepreneur”. Which is an important step, because the pivot from employee to entrepreneur rarely happens in one smooth transition.

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