The Entrepreneurial Generation and America’s Bleak Future

Entrepreneurship is all the rage, and that’s a good thing. Small companies grow up to be big companies. Today’s WhatsApp is tomorrow’s Google (NASDAQ:GOOG). Today’s Box is tomorrow’s Oracle (NYSE:ORCL). Today’s Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) is tomorrow’s Ford (NYSE:F).

Besides reinvesting profits in their own company’s growth, successful entrepreneurs invest in other ventures. That’s how today’s founders grow up to be tomorrow’s VCs. That’s the innovation flywheel that fuels the American economy.

Who in their right mind would have a problem with that model? It’s kept the American Dream alive and well for centuries.

But here’s the rub. That model depends on the vast majority of the workforce being willing and able to work for someone else’s dream, even if some do it just to pay their dues and learn the ropes before striking out on their own.

What affect would it have on the economy if a disproportionately large percentage of an entire generation – fueled by a sort of irrational exuberance over entrepreneurship and a government safety net that lowers the risk of failure – chose not to do that?

What if that generation had so much smoke blown up their you-know-whats by everyone and his brother posting, tweeting, and retweeting article after freaking article telling them why they need to quit their jobs now and carve their own path?

What if there was so much anti-capitalism, anti-corporate American, anti-big business, anti-personal responsibility rhetoric being shoved down the throats of that generation from their teachers, the media, and politicians that they grow up thinking that working for the man is worse than selling their soul to the devil?

What if that generation was so coddled by a generation of always distracted workaholic, playaholic, shopaholic, entertainmentaholic, and foodaholic parents that they think they’re entitled to a gig doing what they want, when they want to do it, without having to answer to a big bad boss?

What if self-serving politicians in a ballooning government were all too willing to provide an entire suite of soup-to-nuts entitlement programs, unemployment benefits, tax breaks, and health insurance so a large percentage of young adults could call themselves entrepreneurs and CEOs while sitting at home in their PJs blogging and tweeting?

Look, I don’t want to get all up in the numbers here, but we know that Gen Y has ridiculously high rates of unemployment and underemployment, not to mention an even more distressingly low labor force participation rate.

Granted, there are other factors contributing to those numbers, but let’s not kid ourselves about the trend we’re seeing here. The truth is, you can’t visit a media website without being bombarded by the constant entrepreneurial drumbeat. Which would be fine, if it wasn’t accompanied by all the “quit your job now” Kool-Aid.

Not to pick on James Altucher, but his LinkedIn post “10 Reasons You Have to Quit Your Job In 2014” – which has over a million hits in just over a week, mind you – just happens to be the latest to come across my Twitter feed.

Of course, Altucher – a very smart and accomplished guy – makes some good points, but the article’s entirely too one-dimensional in its analysis to be taken seriously. And the implication that, if you don’t quit your job soon, you won’t have a roof over your head, is more than a little over-the-top, if not plain irresponsible.

The truth is, career decisions are not nearly as black and white as people like Altucher make them out to be. Reading his article, you’d think that the only job you can get is working for peanuts like a dog in a dead-end job you hate and ending up outsourced or downsized into destitution.

The funny thing is, I spent 23-years in the high-tech industry – you know, the model for all the entrepreneurial and innovation stuff everyone talks about – and every successful senior executive, entrepreneur, and VC I know got there the same way.

They cut their teeth doing what they enjoyed in an industry that offered tremendous opportunity for growth. They got a load of experience under their belts, gained confidence from success and wisdom from failure, learned how the business world works, built their networks, and then, when the opportunity to run their own show arose, they went for it.

I’m not just talking about a handful of people here. I’ve known hundreds, maybe thousands, who were highly successful and happy working for others in the corporate world. My concern is that millions of young Americans will never get that opportunity because they’ve been sold a bill of goods. More importantly, I’m afraid we’re digging ourselves a hole we will never be able to climb out of.