At first blush I thought this was a somewhat unusual question since I just assumed entrepreneurs are all kind of the same. We go off on our own, start businesses and try to change the world in some way, maybe large, maybe small. And we want to do it our way, the rest of the world be damned. We are bit are bit quirky, risky and single minded in our ambition.
In reality there are a lot of different kinds of entrepreneurs and they vary quite a bit. Linda Rottenberg in her most recent book, Crazy is a Compliment, asserts the wild world of entrepreneurship is comprised of four species: Gazelles, Skunks, Dolphins and Butterflies.
Using animals is lot more approachable, understandable and elegant than clunky portmanteaus like; solopreneur, intrapreneur, mompreneur … don’t you think?
Gazelles make big leaps with big ideas and big businesses to support them. These are fast the growing companies aiming to be the next big thing. Gazelles have immense visions and their companies employ significant numbers in that pursuit. This combined with high growth means Gazelles are often the engines of employment. Think Apple, Google, Microsoft, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s. While a Gazelle doesn’t necessarily need to invoke a new technology or product, they do need to have a tremendous vision and the ability to manifest it.
There were already plenty of hamburger stands when Ray Kroc decided to invest in McDonald’s just as Sam Walton was not the first variety retailer. Not only did Jeff Bezos set up an ecommerce store, he made it a monstrosity and leveraged other services (FBA, AWS, Mechanical Turk).
Gazelles work extremely hard and their brains often don’t work like anyone else’s. They make patterns and connections that others don’t see.
And working them or being in their presence can be notoriously difficult as illustrated by Elon Musk. When asked about the Tesla (and Space X and Paypal) founder, his brother, Kimbal, remarked, “Let’s just say he was first in line when he was born for engineering skills but he wasn’t first in line for social skills.” Often Gazelles are not driven by money (though they tend to make a lot of it) but rather the pursuit of a grand dream, an comparable idea, an outrageous challenge in of itself.
Originally termed by David Birch (of the research firm, Cognetics) Gazelles are fast growing companies that achieve 20% revenue growth per year over four years on a base of $1 million.
Dolphins hail the call of social justice. They are driven to change society and do this by leading non-profit and philanthropic organizations.
In their quest to make an impact, they are unafraid to apply new techniques, challenge organizations and upend the usual way of doing things. Recognizing that philanthropic entities need to employ business type techniques and metrics, Dolphins are willing to demand change from these organizations as well as launch new organizations that operate with these approaches. Dolphins are smart, social and altruistic animals but they are not pushovers (disturb a dolpin’s pod and watch out).
Skunks are the change agents within established companies. These are individuals who champion nascent ideas and get projects (that may initially seem crazy) off the ground and ultimately launched. Skunks are charismatic, savvy leaders who know how to skillfully communicate a vision and marshall resources in order to achieve disruptive innovation. They are termed skunks because they “stink up the place”
“Skunk works” is a project within an organization where a small group of people are charged with researching & developing a project primarily for the sake of radical innovation. Originally coined by Lockheed (now Lockheed Martin) to describe a secret project to create a fighter jet during World War I. Other famous skunk work projects include the original Apple MacIntosh team and Google X Labs.
Butterflies are inspired by freedom, creative expression and crave flexibility and independence. While they are often driven to serve it is by an intense desire to offer their gifts to the world.
They are the artists, the designers, the bakers, the chefs, the writers, the yoga masters, the coaches, the photographers, the plumbers, therapists, the home organizers, the bookkeepers, the musicians. There are thousands of types of butterfly entrepreneurs just as there are thousands of butterfly species in existence.
Often referred to as a “Lifestyle Entrepreneurs”, their business goals are also often accompanied by a need not to be circumscribed by an organization. Beautiful and inspirational, butterflies need room to spread their wings and fly. And while they are seemingly fragile creatures, they have a steely resolve.
Ironically while I worked in large, corporate organizations I often described myself “Butterfly Trapped in Mayonnaise Jar”. And no surprise, the Butterfly Entrepreneur description fits me aptly.
The entrepreneurial species segmentation also assists me defining the audience I am serving. While I am intrigued by entrepreneurs who strive for venture capital, aim to build large organizations and place themselves atop the pyramid and have a well defined exit plan. This isn’t my species.
My species are people like who me who want to fly, be free and ultimately soar.