What Exactly is Entrepreneurship?

1 years ago

Guess what? The answer has nothing to do with business.


I love working in a building full of entrepreneurs. It’s always a place full of passion, drive, and most importantly, hope.

I’ll return to the theme of hope in a moment.

I get asked all the time to share success stories of entrepreneurs we’ve worked with. For a long time I gave the typical story.  Startup X raised this much in investment, generated this much revenue, added this many local jobs, created this much social impact, etc, etc…

However, recently, when asked that questions, I’ve started to tell a new story. It’s a story that in many ways, is much more interesting.

Now, when someone says, “Ian, tell me a success story,” I tell them the story of Cassidy.  He may be best entrepreneur I’ve ever met.

How much investment did he secure? None. 

How much revenue did he generate? Not much, compared to others we’ve worked with.  

How many jobs did he add to the economy?  Zero.

Did he create impact? Absolutely.

Cassidy on his Sustainable Adventure (yeah, that's a S2 t-shirt!). Photo by Jan Winkelmann

Cassidy is from a very small town in rural Nevada. He barely graduated high school. He had great difficulty writing. He could not speak publically, and was unsure about himself.

But Cassidy was very artistic, loved to design things and was good with his hands. He especially liked working with vinyl.  When I met him he wanted to start a vinyl sticker and sign business.  So, he got involved with our community and dove head-first into making vinyl products.  He began doing quite well, and he started making a decent living for himself.

His business was growing. He started imbedding some impact elements into this business. His production was partially solar powered, and he upcycled his scrap vinyl for community arts projects.  And as his business grew, so did Cassidy.

Before long, he became confident and self-assured. He was able to captivate a room when he spoke.  He started actively writing. Reading voraciously. Nothing seemed to scare him anymore. He loved figuring out new problems and tackling challenges.

This is because, entrepreneurial experiences do something to people.  They change people.  Regardless of whether ideas succeed, when people jump into entrepreneurship, they are transformed. 

One day, Cassidy said to me, “You know, vinyl is great and all, but its not my passion.” During this time, he had developed a passion for long-distance cycling. I remember, one time, he decided he wanted to bike to Lake Tahoe.  So he did. On that trip, and subsequent trips, he was tremendously impacted by all the people he met along the way, the stories they shared and the lessons he learned.  And he said to himself, “this is what I want to do.” I want to cycle all over, capture these stories and experiences and share them with others.  People don’t have enough adventures.  I want to help inspire people to get outside, try new things and have adventures.  

So, he did.  He sold off his business and launched Cassidy Explores, a sponsored travel blog, chronicling his cycling adventures around the world. He is doing it now, currently in New Zealand, and loving it.  For the latest updates, check out online: www.cassidyexplores.com and on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cassidyexplores/

To me, this is a success story. Cassidy’s entrepreneurial experience completely transformed him, just as I’m sure it has transformed many entrepreneurs before him. Just as it is transforming me today.  Cassidy transformed from a nearly illiterate high schooler, to a confident, action-oriented, accountable problem-solver who spends his days doing what he loves. 

Photo courtesy of Cassidy Explores

In my opinion, entrepreneurship is defined as two, and only two, interrelated concepts.  Neither of which have anything to with business by the way.

  1. Entrepreneurship is discovering what you love to do, and finding a way to do it.
  2. Entrepreneurship is about identifying problems and needs, and taking it upon yourself to solve them.


This second point is quite important, and why I’m filled with hope whenever I meet entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are people who see problems and needs, and take it upon themselves to solve them.  They don’t see problems and say, “that sucks, I wish that would go away,” or “I hope someone does something about that” or “I hope things will be different one day.” 

No, entrepreneurs say “I” am going to solve it.  Most people don’t have the courage or commitment to say this, or luxury to take action.  Entrepreneurs do.

So, if you buy into my story of what entrepreneurship actually is, the question then becomes: What do we do with it?  What do we do with this powerful way of seeing and operating in the world?

My answer: Make the world better. Create real value. Solve real problems.

Too often, I see really smart and talented entrepreneurs working to create the fastest growing, most scalable tech products.  But why?  If they answered honestly, and some have, I bet they would say its because want to make lot of money, accrue influence, gain social status and ultimately find happiness in life.

However, the data is pretty clear that money and status don’t make us happy.  We plateau and even drop off in our happiness level after an income of about $75,000 per year. So why take this high wealth, high status path if it won’t make us happy?

Is the world a better place because Angry Birds exists?  Is the world a better place because the iPhone exists? I think the answer is debatable, and its one we will all have to answer for ourselves.

Entrepreneurs have immense power.  Entrepreneurs see the world differently than other people.  Entrepreneurs see opportunities where others see problems. Entrepreneurs are action-oriented, driven, effective and accountable. Entrepreneurs make decisions through the perfect balance of data and passion.  So what do we do with this power?

Make the world better. 

Create the value worth creating.

Solve the problems worth solving.

Generate real impact.  

Make decisions with more than just short-term financial returns in mind.

Still buying my story?

If so, I want to end by exposing a secret.  It’s a secret you may have discovered already along your own entrepreneurial journey:

Entrepreneurship doesn’t build businesses, it builds people.



It builds people who, often, happen to go on to build great businesses and organizations. 

Some of the best entrepreneurs I know have never started a business. They are simply continually efficient, effective problem-solvers.  They see the world differently and are continually acting and innovating to do anything and everything better.

My wife, Leslie, is a fantastic entrepreneur, a much better one than I am. She doesn’t accept second-rate outcomes, she never lets a problem linger, and always is innovating to create better solutions and add value to others. (She is a sixth grade teacher by the way.)

That’s my story.  You’re welcome to take it or leave it. But if you’re going to take it, remember: We entrepreneurs have a real power and unique skills.  Let’s use it to make the world better. 

Create the value worth creating.

Solve the problems worth solving.

Fight the fights that need fighting.

Make real impact.

If we do that, there is always hope.



Ian W. Shelledy


Executive Director

Sustainable Startups