LinkedIn is a website used for professional networking. Simply put, it's an online resume that anyone can view. On my LinkedIn account, I chose to describe myself as an engineer and entrepreneur. Describing myself as an engineer is perfectly normal, because that is what I do for a living. But an entrepreneur? I didn't drop out of undergrad to move to Silicon Valley and start a tech company. I haven't sold any businesses. Am I really an entrepreneur?
Wikipedia defines an entrepreneur as "an enterprising individual who builds capital through risk and/or initiative." My simple spin on this would be "an individual who (legally) sells goods or services to make money." This is arguably a bit broad, but let's go with it for now.
According to this definition, am I an entrepreneur?
When I was 8 years old I got my first job delivering newspapers in Vinton, Iowa. This was a great experience in which I learned about work ethic, responsibility, saving money and basic business fundamentals. But was it entrepreneurial? I don't think so. My job was to deliver someone else's newspapers. The entrepreneur in this situation was the person who said "Let's write a newspaper and sell it to all the people that live in this town."
In middle school, my sister and I started mowing various lawns in Dysart in return for cash. This was more along the lines of an entrepreneurial venture. We found people who had a need (overgrown grass), and we equipped ourselves with the tools and skills necessary to meet their need. Truthfully, this wasn't our idea. Rather, the entrepreneurial credit goes to our parents who found ways for us to stay busy and make money at the same time. In fact, during these years, my enterprising parents found all sorts of odd jobs for me. You want those rocks in your field picked up? Will Rice and Austin Lyons will be at your field at 8 a.m. with five gallon buckets.
I started thinking entrepreneurially in high school. I had taken guitar lessons from one of the best guitar players I've ever met who happened to live in the same little Iowa town as me. My parents paid him to teach me (thank you Mom and Dad). A year or so later, it dawned on me - I could teach local students what I had learned, and I bet their parents would pay for it. Sure enough, my parents found some friends whose children were interested in learning guitar.
After my senior year in high school I worked for one of the two gas stations in town, John's Qwik Stop. I wasn't in an entrepreneurial role - I just showed up and worked at someone else's gas station. But I wanted to mention it here anyway because it sure was interesting. I learned a lot about how a business works. I think the most useful thing I learned was how to do basic accounting in Microsoft Excel. Here's a funny and unrelated anecdote - when I first started working at John's, I had to ask everyone who wanted to buy alcohol or cigarettes for identification. It didn't matter if you were over 50 and taught my dad when he was in high school. ID please. Yes, sir, I see that you've lost all of your hair, and you probably haven't had a full head of hair since before I was born. But I need to see your ID. It was rather amusing to see how people responded.
After a summer working at John's, I packed up and shipped off to Iowa State to pursue an engineering degree. Although I had acquired a tiny bit of entrepreneurial and business experience during my formative years, I intended to focus solely on engineering at Iowa State. Or so I thought...
Check back next time for the second installment of My Entrepreneurial Adventures.