What type of entrepreneur are you?

To me, there seems to be three types of entrepreneurs — inventors, innovators, and iterators. Because we don’t distinguish between these very distinct types, the process for each one, and the personality type for each, is uniquely different. I’ll try to explain my observations with each of these three roles.

The Inventor

In my experience the true inventors are the builders, who are typically geniuses on the edge of sanity. They are some of my favourite types of people at ideasmeetings, as well as great friends who I feel are really changing the world in unexpected ways.

I observe they are usually not very social, perhaps on the autism spectrum and introverts, who are happy reading, tinkering, learning, and experiment out of left field, with very little priority on the business drivers needed for financial success or even a desire to participate in capitalism. They likely rely on someone to help take their inventions to market, and would be happy with a little piece of the financial pie in the process.

It takes a lot of money and or time to be an inventor, as the acquired knowledge base is usually decades. They may have second jobs that use their technical skills to pay the bills, to allow them to focus on their passion of inventing.

I will guess that 1 in 1,000,000 true inventors reach financial independence from an invention they’ve created, but their priority isn’t driven economically anyways. Also, there are very few true inventors, or even really unique innovators.

The Innovator

This is where a lot of my self identifying “tech entrepreneur” social network lies. These are the people taking moonshots, or building out a tech / product / solution when there is little to no competition, with the hopes of “build it and they will come”. These entrepreneurs usually fail. In terms of product / market fit (business term) or UX (user experience, design term) they completely fail usually. Being an innovator is like having a lottery ticket as a career.

In my observation, the innovators are usually not very social, likely autism spectrum or ADHD, and even less talked about, suffer from some type of mental health or addiction that prevents them from wanting to participate in the patriarchal dumpster fire of current late stage capitalism that we see today. There are many stats on how often entrepreneurs fail and how few succeed, and those are usually innovative entrepreneurs.

It also takes a lot of privilege to be an innovator entrepreneur. You need a lot of time and/or money to build the minimum viable product or service, only to then take it to the market to see if there is demand, and usually the innovator is also not a closer (sales term), so they need to find someone with the skill set of marketing and sales — the capability of listening to the potential customer instead of proactively trying to sell to them.

I’m going to guess at best 1 in 1,000 innovators will make it to the 5 year mark of their venture being financially viable. Just because you hear about the success stories on the news, it’s like lottery winning — don’t ignore the statistics of how many fail, and why.

The Iterator

If you insist on being an entrepreneur, this is where I recommend every wannapreneur start. It’s the least sexy of the three, but it’s the smartest strategy, and still has a lot of risk. This is simply looking at where the market already exists, and just improving on a product or service. Look at something that makes a lot of money that you can do, and find a way to make it better. Not 1x or 2x better, but at least 10x better. That could be 10x time savings to the customer (convenience), 10x cheaper for the customer, or some other 10x benefit that would be hard for a customer to ignore. It could also just be 10x closer — there’s nothing wrong with starting a well known restaurant franchise in an under-served area if the franchisor validates with you that there is need there.

When I observe most of the accelerators or incubators in the various communities I’ve lived, they have wannapreneurs who need income in the next month or two who are trying to be innovators, and that’s going to fail 99.44% of the time. If you don’t have a year of runway at least, being an iterator is only closest you have to a responsible option — and get enough financial success from that under your belt that you can decide if you want to try the innovator approach on the next idea.

It still takes money and time to be an iterator, but a lot less than the other two options. You might seek out your local business bank and get a loan to help you, as an example. The smartest iterator will have validated their business hypothesis with enough potential customers that are not friends or family who are willing to pay for the product or service upon hearing about it — never accept “that sounds like a good idea” or “Sure, I’d use that” — if you hear something along those lines, ask them if they’d pay today and listen to why not.

It is irresponsible for an accelerator, incubator, or even yourself to take on invention or iteration if you don’t have the financial capability, or investment, to get your product to a working MVP. A someone who advises entrepreneurs, I hope we all start to reference these three distinctive roles and make sure we’re supporting them in the appropriate fashion.

If you support entrepreneurs in some fashion, such as advising, be clear on which entrepreneurial roles you have the capabilities to support.

The last thing I would advise any wannapreneurs reading this, apart from distinguishing which of the three resonates with you — is if you’re picking a mentor, advisor, incubator or accelerator, do a deep dive into who the mentor or advisor is. Are they an active entrepreneur running another successful business right now, or do they have a history of multiple, repeated success behind them? If so, that’s great. If they had a one-hit wonder over a decade ago, find someone who’s got recent, active experience as the industry is moving fast and furious. Don’t be afraid to ask a potential advisor of their recent successes, failures, and experience — and validate their assertions if you can.

If you’re an active serial entrepreneur, consider the massive knowledge transfer gap right now, and find an entrepreneur right for you that you could mentor. I have access to many who are looking, so if this is you, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Self-awareness is king in entrepreneurship — play to your strengths. The other really hard decision is re-prioritizing long-term friends from good friends — as Jim Rohn said,

You Are The Average Of The Five People You Spend The Most Time With