Start-up culture versus entrepreneurship

That feeling when a friend is pitching a new app idea for the 'Uber of x'. 

The grievances I have with the Ubers of x range from lack of competitive advantage to lack of resources to devastatingly hard work to high probability of failure.

Uber for Outback? Preferable

But really I think I’m baffled by the perception of start-up culture as something one can adopt, as opposed to a way of life that pervades all thoughts, patterns and decisions.

When my family immigrated to Canada in the late ‘90s, our plan for income generation was to find a market we could serve and create a solution, as it is for many hard-working immigrant families. Through my teens, I was part of a number of family-grown start-ups in industries ranging from food to health & fitness to catering to elderly care. I envied my friends whose parents were executives at IBM and who did not have to do market research on weeknights, help with accounting on weekends, and support operations on holidays. I remember designing a flyer (print!!) for an elderly care start-up and subsequently having Staples mess up the print order (they didn’t print the logo) and going ahead and accepting it for the discount along with a logo stamp and then spending several weeknights stamping these flyers into sufficiency.

Since life at home is a child’s benchmark for what life outside of home should be, I became a starter. I started a lunch program for kids; I started a school supply shipment operation to Ecuador; I prototyped a college textbook exchange app. I worked for start-ups in India, China and Indonesia. I was a finalist in a major business competition. I minored in social entrepreneurship (for real) and won awards for it (what??) all while generating less revenue than it would take to sustain a quarter-person. Of my myriad initiatives, I enjoyed modest success from founding a 501(c)3 non-profit organization for microfinance in Uganda and as part of the founding team for art nights in Toronto. But most (all) of the time, starting things only ended with ending things and all the not-fun stuff that comes with ending things, so I began to gravitate toward structure, metrics and resources to avoid endings.

What did come out of this serial ending of things is a rigour around what I’m looking for the next time that I pool my heart, soul and flow into an idea, and that’s a number of things, like resources, market knowledge, competitive advantage (preferably an unfair one) and the right team. These things are obvious to everyone except for people who are a product of an environment where starting things is the only option so these factors are not up for measurement. In fact this is what I should be articulating to all my Uber of x friends in place of my rant. Next time.