The world is changing at a frantic pace. We’re witnessing these small changes all the time, but, somehow, it makes more sense to talk about the bigger picture when there’s a significant time milestone. Like the beginning of a new decade, for instance.
The world today, at the beginning of the “twenties” is so different from the world ten years ago, in so many ways. But there’s one particular aspect that I’m interested in, one that shifted dramatically, and that’s entrepreneurship.
I was lucky enough to witness the last decade from the position of a full time entrepreneur. The beginning of this new decade caught me in a different position, though: I’m now a part time entrepreneur. I have a full time job, as a programmer, but I also have some small projects going on (this blog might be considered one of them, for instance).
And this approach gains more and more momentum. I see many of my fellow digital nomads in Spain, where I moved a year ago, sharing the same approach: having a bigger, more stable employment – and then slowly building around (or on top of) that with small steps.
How did this happened?
The Decade Of The Extraordinary
The last decade was the time when figures like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk got to the forefront of media, projecting images of sharp, deep and almost monstrous success. The world was stormed by the introduction of smartphones – and the only responsible for this is, you guessed, Steve Jobs. Electric vehicles and the earthquakes they are provoking to the traditional automotive industry have also a single person behind them: Elon Musk.
Don’t get me wrong, there is always more than one person behind such huge endeavors, I’m well aware of that. All I’m saying is that the image around these endeavors, the initiator, the visionary, the hero, is always a single person, sharing a specific set of traits.
The full time entrepreneur was a “maverick”, a “fool” or even “crazy”, like Jobs put it bluntly in his famous Apple ad. The full time entrepreneur was a visionary, with a huge risk appetite, and he was putting a “dent in the Universe” (to quote Steve Jobs again). Whatever they were involved in had a tremendous impact.
But the world where Jobs and Musk started is not the same as the world we live in today. Also worth mentioning that the media narrative usually ignores their painful life situations and presents only the glamour of their success (which can be attributed also, to a significant extent, to luck – or good timing, if you want).
Ironically, the world that we live in today – which was shaped largely by these mavericks – is more crowded, denser and harder to penetrate profoundly. The amplitude of their inventions made the play field a more compact space, in which advancement can be achieved, if ever, only in small steps.
I think this is one of the causes behind the rise of the part time entrepreneur, and I’m going to explain why.
Accessibility of Tools
Ten years ago, having a blog was a rarity. Building your own site and selling stuff on it, quite difficult. Generating audiences for those websites, also hard work.
Today, a blog can be created in a matter of seconds, integrated from the very beginning with stores and social media handles, and, if you really want to add some sparkles, even with AI powered bots that will take care of customer support for you.
Those into blogging platforms and online stores businesses will insist specifically on this accessibility: it’s so simple, anyone can do it. And, truth to be told, almost anyone tries to do it. Which creates a huge competition. It is simpler to make a blog today, but it’s way, way more difficult to be successful with it.
And this is happening everywhere, not only in the information business. All verticals have lowered the accessibility bar to unprecedented (and, in my opinion, almost dangerous) levels. Think, for instance, about genetic manipulations, and the proliferation of CRISPR kits, which are allowing to literally alter your own genome, in the privacy of your garage. Ten years ago, genome manipulation – as a business – was accessible only to a lucky few.
All known industries are now dramatically more accessible but that increases the complexity of the entrepreneurial game to unthinkable limits.
So, instead of “putting a dent in the Universe”, the part time entrepreneur is now trying to just make a more than decent living, by improving certain processes, in niches that are not so crowded. Instead of reinventing the wheel (or the way we communicate, with the smartphone, for instance), the part time entrepreneur is just refining, in small bites, things that are already there.
Industries Are Blending
A significant consequence of this accessibility, on top of increasing the competition, is the blurring of hard lines between various industries. It’s becoming more and more difficult to know where a certain niche starts and where it ends.
For instance, 3D printing can be used for small scale businesses, but it can also be used to print entire houses, as a real estate “unfair advantage”. Online advertising can benefit tremendously from AI, which also helps autonomous driving. And improvements in image recognition can be applied in seconds to language processing.
So, in this always changing map, the part time entrepreneur aims to navigate safely from one port to another, rather than building the mightier Titanic. It’s not only more profitable, but it’s also supporting a certain shift in thinking.
Relentless Hustle versus Work-Life Balance
An emblematic mantra of the last decade was the “hustle”, popularized by mavericks like Gary Vaynerchuk. Putting all the hours you can get in your business, always pushing forward, sacrificing personal life, all these were seen as the holy path towards success.
The trend was extremely powerful, and at some point Gary Vaynerchuk became more popular because of these preachings, than because of his actual business (selling wines online, mostly).
But, as the decade approached its end, another thinking pattern started to emerge. It was there all the time, but it just got more momentum as we were close to entering the “twenties”.
It’s about work-life balance. Putting 80 hours of work for your business is not acceptable anymore. Hustling is not guaranteed to generate success. Sacrificing your personal life for your business is suddenly a stupid thing.
Just a day after the 2019 Christmas, one of the most viral posts on this topic stormed Twitter: it was about Shopify CEO (still a $48 billion business) confessing that he’s home at 5:30 PM every day. Oh, the blasphemy!
Priorities are clearly shifting.
Power / Domination versus Meaning / Integration
One of the most popular goals of a full time entrepreneur was to “reach to the top”. I know, because I played this game oh, so many years. If you weren’t among the top 3 actors in your niche, you didn’t exist.
It was all about power and domination. And it was a very tiring and time consuming game.
We’re entering a new space now: one in which power is replaced by meaning and domination by integration.
The part time entrepreneur is not interested anymore in dominating the field, but rather playing at the same level, as long as he can derive some consistent meaning from what he’s doing. As eclectic as these part time businesses may be – and I’ve seen some weird combinations out there – they are all searching more to integrate, rather than dominate.
For instance, it’s not uncommon for a part time entrepreneur to freelance as a web designer, while maintaining a small organic garden in the suburbs. I’ve also seen bloggers who are adding personalized tours as a service to their blogs, as a way to generate revenue on top (or even outside) advertising. Part time consultants are also teaching dance a few hours a week, or vloggers are putting up small coffee shops for the pleasure of it.
We’re still at the very beginning of this trend, but I expect the twenties to be the decade of the part time entrepreneur, a decade in which integration and meaning will submerge power and domination, a decade in which the fragmentation of skills will break the dominance of corporations, transforming those huge, monolithic continents into millions of elastic, versatile small islands, all interacting in a huge archipelago of conscious supply and demand.