Don't Bash Entrepreneurs for Not Being Ambitious Enough

Seriously, please stop bashing entrepreneurs for not being ambitious enough.  It’s like bashing nonprofit workers for not working hard enough to help people in need.

Hackers, Clearly Not Being Very Ambitious ]( “If only these people were more ambitious, then our economy would be doing well.” ( photo by Elena Oliva)[/caption]

The basic argument, that I’ve heard time and time again, is that most entrepreneurs in the valley are working on BS photo social sharing apps with no grand vision or relevance to most people on the planet.  And that it’s their fault for not caring enough. I know a lot of entrepreneurs.  Most are far more ambitious than anyone else seems reasonable.  But even so, here’s a convenient list to help change the conversation from somewhat personal attacks to much broader systemic debate.  

A short list of reasons not to demand entrepreneurs to be more ambitious:

  1. They’re told not to be.
    Every single VC and angel I’ve talked to has asked for specific business models out of huge ideas and markets.  They’re the ones who provide the capital, it’s near impossible to try to make something big without them.
  2. They should be told not to be.
    The entire Lean Startup movement pretty much promotes the antithesis of grand visions.  And it has a point.  Major companies almost always begin small and with much more modest intentions then they eventually obtain.
  3. Photo apps sell.
    Educational apps often don’t.  There are thousands of ambitious and optimistic apps out there, and no one uses them.  Just because Instagram gets the headlines doesn’t mean that all entrepreneurs are trying to build Instagram.  It just means that Instagram is one of the few ideas that consumers like enough to make it successful.  Successes in the industry reflect the market much more than the creators.
  4. “Greedy” entrepreneurs are orthogonal to “ambitious” ones.
    Entrepreneurs trying to sell out quickly may be quite incompatible to those with grandios visions.  But my guess is that they aren’t competing with each other.  The venture industry will grow as large as there are promising startups, so the photo sharing entrepreneurs aren’t hogging the valley from the ambitious ones.  The issue (if there aren’t ambitious ones), is just that.  The other entrepreneurs are practically a different class of people and are no more to blame for not being “ambitious entrepreneurs” than anyone else with the ability to learn entrepreneurship.  Which means almost everyone.
  5. Being ambitious gets very ugly.
    I know several people who have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, or/and years of their lives (and tons of energy and optimism) failing at incredibly ambitious ideas.  We can’t expect what is essentially martyrdom from a group that’s already self selecting.  For every Steve Jobs there are 10 others (some quite similar) who don’t make it for whatever reason, and most suffer dearly.  We all know of stories where entrepreneurs have risked everything under small chances to succeed.  But the definition of small chances tells us that most people who max out their credit scores to do something incredible will fail horribly.
  6. Most people think ambition is crazy.
    While an interestingly vocal group of so-called intellectuals wonder upon the lack of idealism in the tech sector, the vast majority of people who witness it dismiss it and often actively discourage it.  I bet many of these exact intellectuals have completely rejected or dismissed emails from people with incredibly ambitious hopes and claims.  These requests often sound delusional.  Consider an email that states “I’m making something that will replace email!” or similar.  It’s probably a very thin line actually between claims that are considered too uninteresting to pay attention to, and those that are too ambitious to be sane for most people. Both sides are very noisy.   The success of “non-ambitious” startups over “ambitious” ones isn’t personal, it’s systematic, like most issues people argue over.  Also, the moral shortcomings of entrepreneurs are significant, but not necessarily different from the moral shortcomings of everyone else.