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By Ed McLaughlin and Wyn Lydecker

In the world of video gaming, there are different strata to the social hierarchy. Someone who plays a lot of Candy Crush or Words with Friends on a smartphone is considered a “casual.” This is not a compliment. Real gamers, it is said, build their own top-of-the-line computers just for gaming, many with possibly illegal parts from shady regions of China, just to get the best possible experience while throwing themselves passionately into leveling up or completing campaigns in virtual worlds. Why am I talking about this? Because we are seeing a similar split in the characterization of entrepreneurs.

Technology has made a whole new kind of entrepreneurship possible. I wrote about it in The New Face of Business in early March. It’s a model that has entrepreneurs as middlemen. Importantly, this new kind of entrepreneurship does not require the classic whole-hog approach. One of the great appeals of this new model is that entrepreneurs can try on entrepreneurship without risking their shirts. According to some, this is not real entrepreneurship, because it is not risky enough, or doesn’t demand enough. 7 Things Great Entrepreneurs Know from Entrepreneur magazine seems to imply we should call these new middlemen “casuals” in entrepreneurship (or perhaps call the more classic models “Great”). In fact, there is already a term that encapsulates the same sentiment: lifestyle entrepreneur.

That phrase is frequently used to deride someone whose business is not venture-backed, as though that were the only mark of being serious about your business. Hunter Walk puts it nicely in this post, “You’re Either Venture-Backed or a Lifestyle Business: The Big Lie.”  His argument is that the phrase “lifestyle entrepreneur” need not be thrown around insultingly just because someone chose a different funding method (as someone who bootstrapped, I say, “Hear, hear!”). I agree with that, but I want to take things one step further: let’s de-stigmatize that word.

Why should it be a lesser calling to start a business that provides a service that you can run while having another job or a busy life?  I poured myself into building USI for years. For one period, I was only home on Sundays, and many times we pulled all-nighters. I am grateful every day that when I emerged from the cloud of starting up, my family still continued to support my decision to start my own venture.

Are the competitive natures of entrepreneurs making some ungracious? Even with modern technology’s help, human ingenuity and problem solving go into any new business, at different levels of commitment and risk. If technology is letting more people bring those good ideas to market without having to raise outside capital, I applaud them.  No one should say they are not real entrepreneurs.

I have respect for anyone who starts and runs their own business. I go out of my way to patronize local small businesses, if they provide great service or products. Words have a lot of power, and people get very attached to them. I don’t believe that there should be a divide among entrepreneurs – already a special class of movers and shakers –  where one doesn’t need to be. I think we all have a hard enough row to hoe without trying to make some of us feel lesser because our parameters are different. I am, however, in a different stage of entrepreneurship from many of contemporary startups. How do you feel about these labels?


Ed McLaughlin is currently co-writing the book “The Purpose Is Profit: Secrets of a Successful Entrepreneur from Startup to Exit” with Wyn Lydecker and Paul McLaughlin.


Copyright © 2014 by Ed McLaughlin  All rights reserved.