I have spent the holidays exploring some topics on the web that to some may be pretty far out of what they consider to be the entrepreneurial mainstream. I had been slowly reading the $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau for a few weeks on my iPad while walking on my treadmill. Having just finished it last week I decided that I wanted to go deeper into the microentrepreneur movement that Chris' book helped catalyze. I kept playing with the terms microentrepreneur and solopreneur trying to figure out which I liked best. Not sure how I got there but somehow I stumbled across a totally new term, "free range human", popularized by Marianne Cantwell in her book Be a Free Range Human attached to her blog efforts dubbed Free Range Humans. In Marianne's own words she helps people figure out "how to make a living without an office or a boss (and how to create your own career when no one 'job' ticks the boxes)." She goes on to say that, "she does not deal with boring job moves". I am still reading her book, doing the exercises and plugging into some of her reference material but needless to say I find it very interesting - hence this blog post.
Having been focused on teaching the Lean Startup method the past 2 years, since discovering Steve Blank and Bob Dorf's Lean LaunchPad approach covered in Startup Owner's Manual, my view of entrepreneurship had constricted quite a bit, becoming centered on the "scalable startup". Part of that focus has been a by-product of being a catalyst to the state of CT's efforts to create or improve upon its entrepreneurial ecosystem where the emphasis is on the generation of large numbers of jobs. Partnered with the state in the first year of CTNext, I formed Lean Launch Ventures with Andy Moss, to accelerate entrepreneurs under the by-line "taking the risks out of startups" more recently changed to "improving the odds of innovation success". This is where many microentrepreneurs, solopreneurs and most definitely the "free range human" tribe diverge from the approach I have been using which at the end of the day is very focused on the need for early stage risk capital, not just from personal funds, but from family and friends, angel investors and eventually venture capitalists.
A common denominator in all of these "movements" is the notion of iterating on your idea, taking feedback from "earlyvangelists" and other market participants as well as your own gut to determine if you have an idea / business proposition that will fly and eventually generate sufficient revenue to exceed your costs of operating individually or in the form of some type of entity. The jury is still out on the 5 teams that Andy and I accelerated in the Spring 2013 cohort of the Lean Launch Ventures accelerator. It looks like they are all still on the runway picking up speed for liftoff but not yet fully airborne. They all have a fair amount of both time and money at risk still hoping to reach liftoff but there are no guarantees. The $100 Startup and "free range human" proponents would not recommend the risk that our teams have taken. The biggest difference is that almost all of the "free range humans" and a lot of the microentrepreneurs and $100 Startup solopreneur folk would say they are not trying to start "businesses" but are rather trying to create personalized "jobs" for themselves - jobs or, in many cases, "portfolios" of efforts that they choose, truly enjoy and get paid for. The real question is if the goal is job creation - expressed as incomes for individuals doing things that they love that are part of the economy - which approach would come out ahead in the long run?
Here is an experiment that could be run. Invest some amount of money in training as many people as can be accommodated over a defined period of time in the basic principles of entrepreneurship as defined by the $100 Startup model or the "free range human" coaches like Marianne Cantwell at their standard rates. Then compare that to the results of the growing crowd of accelerators, many using elements of the Lean Startup method, where the same dollar amount would be invested in a group of hand selected teams. The metric could be overall economic activity but it could be simply jobs created that are feeding X number of people from the income generated. The real question is which approach would generate the most sustainable jobs?
Honestly, I am not sure what the answer would be. I would not count out the "free range humans" or the $100 Startup folk based on my readings to date. I would love to hear anyone else's thoughts.
PS: I have been inspired by a number of Chris Guillebeau's case studies and Maryanne Cantwell's examples of people that are doing quite well as $100 Startup micro-entrepreneurs and/or "free range humans". I intend to do some follow on posts to highlight some of them? Stay tuned.