Were Your Parents Entrepreneurs?
For this post, I asked ten founders whether their parents were also entrepreneurs. I guess I am chasing the elusive nature versus nurture question today. Are you born to be a startup leader? Or is entrepreneurship a skill you can learn?
I’ll start with my own answer, which I only heard from three of the ten founders surveyed. My parents were not entrepreneurs. My father spent his career working for large organizations in the fashion industry. Most of this time was at large department store chains that all rolled up to become Macy’s. He had a period when my sister and I graduated college when he briefly considered starting his own fashion chain. He definitely had the retailing skills to pull this off, but ultimately the risk was too high for him. Instead, he moved to slightly smaller, but still very large, companies to get more autonomy with senior management roles at J Crew and then Tommy Hilfiger.
My father was happy with his career and his choices, but he certainly didn’t pass on an entrepreneurial gene to me. My mother spent thirty years as an elementary school teacher, a rewarding profession for her, but no small business drive from her either. Did that lack of entrepreneurial role models influence me to take a safer route into investment banking after college? Possibly. If my parents had been small business owners, would I have made different choices? We’ll never know. One of the other founders who did not have business owner parents spoke about how she thinks her father’s decision to go the traditional career route left him with some “regrets for not pursuing his passion as a career”. She said this “empowered her to never live with regret” and go for her own startup dreams.
The other seven founders I asked reported one or both parents were entrepreneurs. There was definitely something passed on in those genes to these founders. I loved the answer from Ashley Bella of ArtzyBella. She said her parents were “more hustlers than entrepreneurs”. Her father worked with small businesses on their finances, and her mother started three business in art, clothing, and travel. Her grandmother operated an apartment building too. One other founder reported being a third-generation entrepreneur. Evan Kirkham of Colorcast also had both parents as entrepreneurial role models. He described his father as a “habitual business ideator” and his mother ran a real estate decorating and staging business. Kirkham even said that his father’s talk show business “inspired the creation of Colorcast”.
Growing up the son of an entrepreneur helped one founder I spoke with build respect for “how hard it is to really be successful as an entrepreneur” and “how disciplined and hardworking one has to be about the process”. These childhood learnings helped him appreciate and enjoy the long journey that he had to a successful exit. I think these observations are a big benefit to any new founder. The other benefit to being the child of an entrepreneur is having someone you can talk to that has been through it before themselves. I would have loved for someone I trusted as much as my father or mother to have been able to share their hard-won experiences as an entrepreneurial leader with me.
So, back to the nature versus nurture question. Do I think you need to have entrepreneurial role models in your family to be a successful startup founder? Certainly not. However, having this is an advantage and it does seem to show some measure of correlation with the willingness to jump into the startup life.
Thanks for reading today’s post, I hope this helps you think about your own motivations and drivers for starting a business.