For months I’ve had an unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach that things haven’t been quite right.
I just couldn't figure out what exactly was wrong. And then I did.
I was in the middle of a private pitch from an entrepreneur telling me about a new app they were intending to build for college students. Using my money — all $800,000 they were asking for — they were going to help college students find the perfect date.
Someone with common interests, desired personality traits and the possibility for a late night rendezvous between the sheets. (OK, that last part wasn’t a part of their pitch, but I couldn't help but imagine the real ways savvy college kids would be using their app.)
As I sat there listening to the entrepreneur telling me their wild growth numbers — of course they should expect similar numbers to Tinder or Facebook — a combination of rage and disgust and hopelessness crashed through my cerebellum. I tasted a little bit of throw-up on my tongue. I couldn't help but shake my head in disappointment. There were so many things wrong with a presentation like this.
I started asking myself questions. How did we get here? Was I responsible for enabling a generation of nut-jobs calling themselves entrepreneurs? More importantly, what exactly was the problem with this brand of start-up idiocy?
As the pitch droned on, I faded out. Too disheartened to even ask follow-up questions. And then it hit me. I figured out in a blazing second why all my senses were revolting. This wasn't an entrepreneur at all. It was a fauxpreneur. A fake. A smart idiot equipped with an MBA and the balls to ask for hundreds of thousands of dollars of my money. What makes me say this? How dare I push back against this new generation of disruptive technology?
For every young entrepreneur out there, be aware of how you might sound to investors. Below are three steps to becoming a fauxpreneur:
1. Not building a real company.
With today's technology, just about anyone can create an iPhone app that “flaps” or pokes or otherwise convinces you to place it on your home screen. An app creator can sell their product (if they get lucky) for millions of dollars. But they're not entrepreneurs. They’re app makers. Smart app makers. But not an entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurs build companies. They create movements. They stand for something. Not just build something. A fauxpreneur doesn’t understand that.
2. Not having a deep understanding of the industry.
Let’s face it — when was the last time you talked to a start-up founder who had spent massive amounts of time studying and working and developing ideas in the same damn industry? The classic fauxpreneur doesn’t understand the key players in the industry they are working in or spend time making relationships that are meaningful. They don't understand the nuances or caveats that will ultimately determine how successful they could be. They just grab some data points from a copycat and hope leveraging someone else's money will increase their own odds of getting lucky.
Entrepreneurs invest their own time and experience in understanding an industry. They're all in. They give back. They disrupt to improve — not just to get rich and walk away.
3. Not willing to struggle for a few years.
The opposite is true for fauxpreneurs who expect a healthy, personal salary. Remember the days as an entrepreneur when you felt lucky to have enough money to make a ketchup sandwich? You were broke. Living day-to-day, hoping your idea was grand enough to change the rest of your life. The fauxpreneur has no stomach for that.
He expects $65,000 per year as compensation for his MBA and “extensive” just-out-of-college in-experience. And he can look you in the eye and explain without blinking that he and his two co-founders (both graduates of the same MBA program) all deserve this magnanimous salary.
He will spend your money to make sure they build a culture that includes a ping pong table and a catered lunch. They are "too good" to fathom the concept of working out of a garage or using Starbucks’ rechargeable wifi tokens as their network infrastructure or borrowing a friend’s couch as temporary living quarters.
So why does it matter if someone is an entrepreneur or not? It matters to investors because we don't want to give our money to somone who's a fake. Being an entrepreneur isn't so much about what you do. It's about who you are. It's about how you take risks and turn impossibly negative experiences into outrageous positive outcomes.
The fauxpreneur sees the success of being an entrepreneur and decides he wants a piece of it. That he deserves a piece of it.
He has enough education to argue eloquently for that success. And so he builds the SWOT analysis and the perfect 9-slide deck he thinks you want. And you're made to believe that you're talking to the next founders of Facebook. But you're not.
The founders are fakes. When things get tough and you stop giving them money, you'll find out they never were entrepreneurs at all. Just smart enough to try copying what real entrepreneurs do — instead of who they are.
In the meanwhile, share your dating app nonsense with somebody else. I'm not interested.