The New Entrepreneur Classification System

By Francisco Dao , written on May 29, 2012

From The News Desk

While watching the SpaceX launch last week, it occurred to me that the term “entrepreneur” as a blanket definition had become woefully inadequate. How can one word properly define everyone from a guy who puts up a Launchrock page to Elon Musk? Surely there had to be a more precise way of defining an entrepreneur.

I started thinking about Michael Arrington’s post from a couple of years ago asking “Are you a Pirate?” It’s a fair question, and while everyone fancies themselves a pirate, there are pirates like Somalis who attack 1,200 foot oil tankers, and pirates who download songs off the Internet. Both groups are technically pirates, but not exactly the same class.

In the interest of saving the word “entrepreneur” as a useful descriptor, I propose the following classifications be affixed after the word the same way people use “MD” after their name. From now on entrepreneurs will be designated by the letters H, EBMP, FO, TRD, WC, and EM. Explanations for each classification are as follows.

The first type are people who call themselves CEO of a website they built on the weekend while they still spend 40 hours a week at a day job. I’ve always considered the word entrepreneur as someone who was fully committed and went “all in.” Using Arrington’s pirate analogy, these people are like pirates who are afraid to leave the shore. Kind of hard to raid ships while standing on a beach. Going forward, if this group chooses to use the word “entrepreneur” they must designate it with the letter H for “Hobbyist” because until you’ve gone all in, it’s just a hobby.

The second type are people who deliver underwear via the internet and other businesses that would be an awesome way for a kid to pay his way through college, but kind of an embarrassment to be held up as an example of Silicon Valley innovation. They might be legitimate entrepreneurs and they might make money, but in terms of being world-changing, let’s not be absurd. This group will now be designated by the letters EBMP for “Embarrassing But Maybe Profitable.”

The third type are people who were given such a leg up by mentors or investors that they never had to skip a paycheck. For the most part, they are real entrepreneurs building legitimate businesses but the only time they ever emptied their bank account or maxed out their credit card was during an annual sale at the Gucci store. In the pirate analogy, they’re like pirates who were given an aircraft carrier. This group will now be designated by the letters FO for “Fortunate Opportunist.”

The fourth type are people who have skin in the game-building businesses that have some reasonable level of sophistication and solve a problem that is more complex than dirty underwear. They’re in the game because they’re driven to build something, not because startups are hot. They’re in the game because they like the game itself, not because they think they can hustle Google into buying an app with no revenue. This group will be around long after the frothy times end and will be designated by the letters TRD for “The Real Deal.”

The fifth type are people who are working on foundational technologies and big risks that fundamentally change our lives. Their work forms the basis on which the rest of us build, such as microchips, routers, biotech, nanotech, and platform level software. The work of these entrepreneurs encompasses everything from building the backbone of the internet to inventing an artificial heart that will keep us alive. This group will now be designated by the letters WC for “World Changer.” With the exception of the sixth group, nobody else should claim to be a WC.

The sixth type consists only of Elon Musk. He will be designated by the letters EM for Elon Musk. No additional explanation is required.

Going forward, please use the appropriate designation when describing yourself as an entrepreneur. We don’t want anyone getting confused.

[Illustrations by Hallie Bateman]