Actions trump words, even fancy ones, especially in business ventures

Years ago, I knew a guy pretty much like me who called himself an “entrepreneur”.

It wasn’t a hugely common word back then, so identifying someone that way sounded exotic and successful and romantic.

His friends introduced him at dinner parties as an “entrepreneur”, rattling off his various business interests, and at first blush it was an impressive list.

At the time, I worked for a big company in a time-clock kind of job, and being identified as an “entrepreneur” sounded better than my gig. I was spending a good amount of time, both during work hours and afterwards, working to release my inner businessman. In fact, another guy and I investigated buying a gas station, several newspapers, even a Dairy Queen.

But nothing ever worked out, primarily because our cash reserves barely filled the bottom of a cookie jar, and I remained an employee rather than a budding entrepreneur.

Finally, and mostly in frustration, I cornered Mr. Entrepreneur at a party and started asking him about his various businesses, looking for some wisdom I could use to build my own.

He talked and he talked and he talked, and I noticed a pattern: There was a lot of discussion about research into this company and investigation into that business, but when it came right down to it, Mr. Entrepreneur wasn’t one. He was just a guy who liked to talk big about the things he was going to do with his life when the opportunity arose. But as it turned out, when opportunity knocked, as it does eventually for everyone, he didn’t answer.

In fact, his biggest financial accomplishment seems to have been convincing his eventual wife that since sooner or later one of his ideas would surely hit it big, she should contribute to their joint success by funding their family on her own.

Being identified as an “entrepreneur” just sounded good, apparently to both of them, and presumably they were content with their parallel lives of sacrifice and dreams.

No matter that the bottom line showed a wife working a time-clock job and a husband talking about business success that didn’t exist. All because he was afraid to pull the trigger on any of his ideas to find out if he had it in him to make at least one idea work.

Our cover story this month on kid entrepreneurs is the antithesis of this story, in that these kids are doing something. They woke up one day with a dream, and with a fair amount of help and guidance from parents and friends, they’re giving something a try. Just from reading the story, you can sense the happiness and pride they and their families have in what they’ve done, even if the results haven’t exactly been Facebook-like in terms of riches and fame. And who knows where what they’re doing today might lead them or their watchful friends someday.

Talk is cheap when it comes to being an entrepreneur. But talking and dreaming about building a business isn’t all that fulfilling; sooner or later, you have to pull the trigger or live with the consequences.