Don’t “Become an Entrepreneur.” Solve People’s Problems So Well They Pay You For It.

Teaching entrepreneurship, I often hear people say they want “to become an entrepreneur,” “to be their own boss,” and “to run their own company.”

I have to distinguish between thinking and behaving entrepreneurially and “becoming an entrepreneur.”

Thinking and Behaving Entrepreneurially

 This means identifying problems that people would pay you to solve, figuring out how to solve them, creating sustainable models to implement the solutions, attracting teammates, marketing and selling the solutions, and so on.

Note that everything here emerges from the problem and the people feeling it. They come first, not you. You serve them. The solution and everything after, depends on the problem and the people feeling it.

“Becoming An Entrepreneur”

Means you want to start a company or be your own boss, so you decide to do so and you do so.

If anything characterizes the starting point for entrepreneurial thinking and behavior, it’s empathy and compassion. If anything characterizes “becoming an entrepreneur,” it’s self-interest. The problem comes second to your interest.

When people who think and behave entrepreneurially enter the market, they listen to people feeling the problem—their future customers—to improve their plans on how to solve them and sell their solutions. When people with the problems hear them, they feel understood and become helpful. These entrepreneurs create communities of helpful people.

When people who want to “become an entrepreneur” start, they come up with their solutions by themselves, often keeping them secret so they can prepare bigger launches. When they tell others about their solutions, they lead others to evaluate them and their solutions. That judgment makes them not helpful and leads them to look for alternatives.

In summary

In summary, “becoming an entrepreneur” follows the popular media portrayal of the entrepreneur. It’s like cargo cults: doing what you see without understanding what happens behind the scenes that creates the results.

When you “become an entrepreneur” you put the cart of selling a product before the horse of understanding the problem and people feeling it, which would lead to customer demand. You end up trying to put the square peg of your solution into the round hole of their problem.

If your lucky you might find overlap, but that’s luck, not effective entrepreneurial practice.


Professor of NYU
Joshua Spodek co-founded and led several ventures. He coaches and teaches leadership, entrepreneurship, sales, and related skills at Columbia Business School and NYU using experiential, project-based learning. He holds five Ivy League degrees, including an Astrophysics PhD and an MBA, and studied under a Nobel Laureate. He helped build an X-ray satellite for the European Space Agency and NASA, and holds six patents. His current passion is developing methods to master business's soft skills, even for geeks like him.