An entrepreneur wants to be their own boss. A startup founder wants to take over the world.
The boom of tech startups coming from the Silicon Valley in the last three decades made entrepreneurship a very sexy occupation. Founders of successful startups are treated like superstars and are without a doubt some of the most powerful people in the world.
This inevitably draws more people into the realm of startups, and an unfortunate consequence of that is that people who are not well suited to the adventure of startup founders are also attracted. You don’t need to be an expert to launch a startup. In fact, anyone can do it in as little as a day. However, building a startup into a scalable and impactful venture is one of the hardest things you can set out to do, so if you are not suited to the journey and are unable to enjoy the process, you can quickly get burned out.
It is possible, however, to be an entrepreneur without being a startup founder. While both a startup founder and an entrepreneur start a new business, the main difference is in the venture itself.
A startup is innovative and scalable. Hopefully, this combination means that it is disruptive. However, being disruptive is a hard goal to obtain, which means that a startup is without a doubt extremely risky. If you become a startup founder, the most likely thing that will happen to you is that you’ll work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life. And then – you’ll fail.
Of course, being an entrepreneur of any new business is risky, but the actual difference in the risk is hard to intuit.
Being an entrepreneur of a new traditional business is risky because you can get out-competed if your market is not booming and if your competitors are doing a better job than you (or have more resources).
As a startup founder, you can fail because of the same reasons, but on top of that, you can fail simply because the market doesn’t need what you’re building in the first place. There is no way to find out if people need what you’re offering if you don’t test the actual market. So, in reality, you will likely fail even if you do everything correctly, and to find success you’ll have to go through multiple failed attempts.
On the risk-reward scale, a regular job is low risk, and relative to building a scalable business, it offers low reward. Traditional entrepreneurship through a small brick and mortar business is medium to high risk, medium to high reward. Startup entrepreneurship is extremely risky, but the potential returns are also extreme.
Making the right choice simply comes to your personal interests, values and priorities.
If your goal is to be one of the movers and shakers of society, and if you are obsessed with the business you want to build and the problems you want to solve, then startups are your best choice.
If you want to be your own boss and to have a higher ceiling for what you can get in life, but at the same time you don’t want to fail over and over again until you’re able to get rewarded for your efforts, traditional entrepreneurship might be a better path than innovative startups.
And finally, if work and stability is your priority in life, don’t forget that not everybody in this world needs to be an entrepreneurship-obsessed hustler and there are many opportunities to climb up the ladder, make a tangible difference in your organization, and even, the world.
Be aware that it’s OK to have your feet on the ground and to have reasonable ambitions. The grandeur of startups comes at a cost, so keep that in mind when you start work on your next venture. If you can bear the cost of failure, however, and if the startup journey seems meaningful to you despite all of the difficulties, then there is no better time to be alive than today.
Abdo Riani – Read more on forbes.com