Here’s What’s Worse Than a Wantrepreneur

spice girls

On any given day of the week Silicon Valley hosts numerous entrepreneur events. Pitch competitions to inactive VCs for non-existent investments. Talks with Internet-famous founders (or more inactive VCs). Demo days. Demo days from international startup delegations. Learning sessions on a myriad of topics from service providers looking to fill up their client pipeline. Recruitathons under the guise of technical meet-ups. And just about any and every other theme and variation on the startup ecosystem. Without fail, the crowd is always comprised of 20-80% wantrepreneurs.

Urban Dictionary defines Wantrepreneurs as “an individual that desires to be, but is not quite yet, an entrepreneur.” I think this is generous. For Urban Dictionary especially. My viewpoint is that these people are fakes. If not for the ego trip of sounding more brave or successful to others, than at least certainly fooling themselves into feeling like they are actually doing something entrepreneurial.

In Silicon Valley, I’ve seen the same people wantreprenuer-it-up literally for years all while holding down an unimportant job in a big, safe, boring company. They are always “doing a startup”. Perpetually “going to go full-time as soon as they find an investor”. Looking to see if you know any engineers “that will work on equity to help them build the prototype… because investors are ready to write them a check”.

Guess what, kids. You are going to have to take a risk on yourself before anyone else will. So stop wasting your non-refundable lifetime bullshitting yourself and others. If you are going to do something, get out of your comfort zone, quit your job, and get busy. Or just go to the movies instead.

Recently, I’ve started recognizing an even worse offender. In non-Silicon Valley ecosystems (where I’ve spent A LOT of time in the last couple of years) there is a much more malignant breed of wantrepreneur growing. Usually, a non-technical founder who is actually able to raise (dumb) money to live the startup lifestyle without producing a product for months or even years. Many times they even get away with being serial fake entrepreneurs.

In San Francisco, a one-bedroom apartment costs $3,500 per month to rent, everything else is just as expensive, and investors are much better at spotting these frauds or at least not being fooled too often. In other parts of the world living expenses are so relatively cheap that small seed investments allow a wantrepreneur or even a team of wantrepreneurs to live a year or more on small accelerator investments or initial angel checks. They get to hang out at co-working spaces, go to conferences, and tell all their friends how they are “doing a startup”. When in reality, all they did is sell Power Point without any actual ability to execute a product.

They are often young and have low overhead. They haven’t worked at a big company and haven’t been spoiled by a big salary. They are simply romanced by the startup parties and want to emulate the blog-famous founders in TechCrunch or local equivalent. They can barely put together a coming soon page but the local investors and tech press haven’t yet learned how to call their bullshit. Whether they do this maliciously or not (don’t be naive, many know exactly what they are doing), they are barnacles on their startup ecosystems extracting hard-to-come-by investment dollars and making the real startups (ones that work their ass off around the clock writing code and getting to customers) look bad. Fool investors once shame on you, do it enough times and they’ll stop writing checks to deserving founders.

This behavior needs to stop. Angels, do yourselves a favor. Before writing a check, make sure this “software company” can actually code and ship a product. Stop buying Power Point. But if you insist, let me know if you are interested in my new Ice Cream Glove startup:

P.S. If you didn’t get the Spice Girls Wannabe reference you are either too young or I’m getting too old.