Privilege Made Me An Entrepreneur
Young people ask me how to become an entrepreneur. It’s a simple answer. Be born rich.
They laugh every time, but it’s not a joke.
The first hump in entrepreneurship is about $20,000, and almost no one who’s not related to you will give you that money. If you don’t have savings or rich family or friends, you’re probably stuck at the gate. Zuckerberg, Bezos, et cetera. They all started with family investment.
And it goes deeper than that.
By the time someone is old enough to drop out of college their parents have already invested thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in them. In books, schools, or even just nutrition and security. Steve Jobs's parents weren’t rich, but they used all their savings to move to a better school district and send him to Reed College. Larry Page and Sergey Brin came from highly educated families and went to Stanford.
This is the iceberg of privilege under entrepreneurship, but we don’t talk about it. And we should.
The most common shared trait among entrepreneurs is access to financial capital — family money, an inheritance, or a pedigree and connections that allow for access to financial stability. While it seems that entrepreneurs tend to have an admirable penchant for risk, it’s usually that access to money which allows them to take risks. (Quartz, citing a bunch of studies)
Capitalism rewards people with access to capital. Labor (ie, hard work) does not get you into the capitalist class, yet this is the lie that entrepreneurs and startups sell. I wasn’t able to become an entrepreneur because I was smarter or worked harder than anyone else. I just had more privilege.
What I did with that privilege was my own I guess, but as I get older I find that more of a meaningless distinction. My privilege was invisible to me until I aged (and had kids) but now I can see how deep that it goes. How much of my life is luck and good fortune and how little is me.
In my small pond, I often get asked to talk about entrepreneurship and I try to tell the truth. I’m not a very good entrepreneur, and I got there mostly by being lucky and rich.