I have been working hard on a paper over the course of this semester. It is aimed at entrepreneurs, specifically those leading start-up organizations.
I’m lucky enough to know many entrepreneurs and am so grateful for it. Whether it be Ryan, Paige, Rob, Kanika, Tenille, Brian, Daniel, Joey, Michael, Derek, Nate, Donna, my amazing mother Yasmin, or anybody else chasing after some sort of entrepreneurial dream, you can pick any and I can genuinely speak highly of them.
My paper is aimed at the likes of them and others engaged in entrepreneurship. I focus specifically on those so passionate about innovation that they are interested in what kind of working environments foster creativity, and then what kind of strategies in leadership create such environments.
In my mind, entrepreneurship is a beautiful thing. It involves critical thinking, the potential to alleviate problems around the world, opportunity to shape society, and innovation.
I won’t name names here for the sake of not causing more problems, but I had a meeting today with two individuals. One of them I consider a friend and despite a very long day of charity work and school work, I promised to meet him and his business partner about a company they are working on. He’s young, just finishing high school. The other was 27, quite charismatic and passionate.
The business is ACN Inc., a multi-level marketing company that provides phone service, television, energy, etc. through independent sales agents. The pyramid concept being applied 100%, where sales agents recruit others, much like many other direct selling companies around the world. This is the 3rd or 4th time I have been approached by one of these companies to take on a product or service, build my own team, and get rich quick.
After watching a five minute video that was remnant of infomercials and propaganda, not to mention that it had Trump’s face plastered all over it, I gave my feedback. It wasn’t positive.
First, I spoke to the failure rate that exists in these type of business activities. Second, I described my skepticism of the attempt at grabbing a service based ‘recession proof’ business opportunity, considering the complexities and volatility of such market. Third, I described how I didn’t feel that this is something I would ever want connected with me, because it’s not in line with my perception of what entrepreneurship is all about.
My criticism was harsh, especially to two people who were meeting me to talk about a business in a positive light. Nonetheless, the younger of the two specifically asked to meet with me because he knew I would be analytical and wanted my opinion. He took my feedback in stride, though the older one didn’t.
I sat through stories of being called onto stage with Donald Trump, descriptions of a $600 billion industry, and the ability to have both time and money. I’ll be honest, after a day spent writing, I was quick with my critique and while I repeated congratulated this man on his 5-month success, I explained that these sorts of companies have multiple sides. With a quick search, I noticed that ACN has had multiple law suits filed against them and considerable media and articles relating to the words ‘scam’ and ‘fraudulent’.
The 27 year old boasted of being a mentor to a team of approximately fifty individuals, each of whom he had recruited, including my friend. I definitely think it’s an impressive feat to recruit so many and speaks to his passion and recent success. Still, I made it clear to my friend that most people who get involved in this sort of activity do not experience such success in a few short months. I reiterated that I had no desire to get involved, but said if he sent me information, I would pass it along to a couple others who I know have had positive experiences in similar business opportunities.
I’m being rather diplomatic here. Let’s break this down a bit. The conversation was one in which I felt wildly disrespected as I was asked for an opinion and then literally cursed at for having one. I was repeated challenged on my credibility and my understanding of business. I had eyes rolled at me, sarcasm, and money used as a measure of successful entrepreneurship.
At the end of it, I shook both their hands and was happy for it to finish. The waitress even came by after asking what that was all about. Reflecting about it, I was most bothered by the fact that the terms mentorship and entrepreneurship were being used so openly.
I have been so lucky to have mentors in the past few years who have genuinely helped me become a better person. They have worked on my flaws with me, told me the harsh truths, challenged me, and encouraged me. This weekend, I had a meeting with a newly assigned mentor and actually asked her if she was being paid for her role as a mentor. I asked this because mentorship, I believe, should not be driven by money. The idea that at ACN, mentorship is the language used to describe the relationship between a 27 year old salesman and a much younger sales recruit feels wrong. How can one mentor another when they are personally profiting from the mentee taking a certain direction?
As for the language of entrepreneurship, I felt it was a term being cheated. To begin, my opinion is that money is potentially a measure of successful enterprise or business, but not of entrepreneurship. Being an entrepreneur involves taking risks, being innovative, and finding new solutions to problems. Paying $500 for ‘overhead fees’ and then being a salesman and taking commission is not my definition of an entrepreneur. That’s like asking me to pay for my own training at SportChek, paying me commission when I make a sale, and letting me pick my own hours. I don’t think that being a sales associate at SportChek makes somebody an entrepreneur, there is no causal link there.
After the meeting, I ended up calling two people, Ryan Lessard and Dean Hughes. After talking with them, I was considerably calmer than when I was in that meeting. In a quick amount of time, I was reminded that there are those out there who are not in business just for the money, who are passionate about creation and innovation, and who have such a high level of integrity that they would never manipulate others in the spirit of a paycheque.
I think many companies like ACN and other multi-level marketing firms can be spotty, for lack of a better word. I think they can create a corporate culture that feeds on greed, which I feel is detrimental to our society. Using aggressive marketing tactics and targeting individuals who want a ‘get-rich-quick-scheme’, often those who are desperate, these companies can embody values that I simply don’t agree with. No, not all of them are awful. Some are brilliant and do great work. Not all people involved are bad people, many are faced with such circumstance that they end up in such companies.
I have personally observed that they target youth, unemployed, single, and/or uneducated individuals. I think this is a recruiting strategy. I think it’s a smart one for the company. They find people who have the motivation to work extremely hard, have the time to do it… and just in case they fail, the company still profits.
I know that not everyone is in business for the same reason and there are certainly those who care about one thing above all else, profit. Perhaps I am naive or maybe my idealism is blinding me, but I feel and I am often surrounded by others that feel there is more to business.
It’s not fair to simply dislike those who are in business solely to make money because, for all I know, they are using that money in the most noble of ways. I will say this though, I dislike manipulation of people, convincing people that they can get rich quick, and that there is an easy way through life. It’s like the lottery, except the stakes are much higher and the sacrifices people make are much worse.
Goodness, so much negativity. I haven’t had a rant like this in some time.
To those of you out there who value creativity, innovation, ideas, dignity of people, entrepreneurship, and the idea that a ‘job’ isn’t just about money, I seriously thank you. I often say that I have faith in humanity and it is because of people like you.
What you have to offer to this world cannot be measured.
Share your ideas.
Time for bed.
PS: If you made it this far, am I being stupid? Is this being pedantic? Is this overly idealistic? What are your motivations for being an entrepreneur? Please comment here on the blog – all feedback appreciated. Thx for reading such a long rant lol