Before I start throwing stones, let’s address the elephant in the room. Me. Mathew, the elephant.
Everything that this article talks about, I have been guilty of enabling in some way, shape or form. Like you, I love me some good old entrepreneur porn. Because I am human and we are naturally curious as to what our peers are doing and obsessed with, ensuring that, at the very least on social media, the true vapidness of what really happens day-to-day in our lives is never revealed.
The term ‘entrepreneur porn’ is a relatively new one. In its most basic form, it is a motivational thought piece, video or image that is targeted towards entrepreneurs and ‘wannabe’ entrepreneurs. Before there was social media, Australians would get their ‘entrepreneur porn’ fix from the wealth creation speaker circuit and ‘Rich List’ issues of BRW Magazine – the bible for all 70’s and 80’s kids wanting to make their own mark on the world.
Over the last couple of weeks this notion of ‘entrepreneur porn’ has been the top of mind for a number of startup commentators and journalists around the world, prompting us to ask the question – is it killing the actual definition of what it actually means to be an entrepreneur?
At its core, the term entrepreneur is used to describe a person that sets up a business and takes a financial risk in pursuit of profit. It is only in the last five to ten years that the word has been glamourised and taken on a meaning outside of those parameters. The term entrepreneur is now synonymous with celebrity culture, with people like Mark Zuckerberg, Evan Speigel, Sophia Amoruso, Rachel Zoe and many others sharing the same level (if not more) of notoriety than actual celebrities on television and in movies. In fact, there is a growing market within the photography (paparazzi) community for images of well-known entrepreneurs outside the office, living their seemingly luxurious lifestyles.
The recent conversations about entrepreneur porn were sparked by an article published on September 10th on Medium by Ali Mese titled, How quitting my corporate job for my startup dream f*cked up my life. It not only went viral on that platform, but was then syndicated across other publications, such as TechinAsia.com. The article received over 370,000 views in 24 hours, and was even shared by Mark Cuban from top rating television show Shark Tank.
As any piece of content that draws a large crowd, readers fell on both sides of the fence when it came to Mese’s post. Some, like TechinAsia journalist Daniel Tay penned pieces that defended the premise of the article in his own piece titled There’s a need for ‘entrepreneur porn’. Here’s Why. Others reiterated their praise for Mese on social media calling him brave and inspirational for leaving his corporate job for a life of entrepreneurship.
Some, however, such as ReferralCandy’s Singapore-based Content Lead, Visakan Veerasamy – who also happens to be a top writer on Quora – questioned the post. Visakan was quick to point out his confusion over the blind praise that Mese was attracting by asking some of the questions that perhaps everyone should when it comes to this type of ‘motivational content’ – like what does Mese’s startup actually do? It was never stated anywhere in the post. What is his startup actually called? There is no point of reference that allows anyone to analyse his claims.
In fact, as is common with ‘entrepreneur porn’ style content, because Mese “bravely” states that a few elements of his journey were “tough” and that he was “poor”, as readers we immediately ignore the oversights because somehow, for no actual reason when a person tells us they were ‘poor’ or that they ‘lived in their car for 2 months’ or that ‘they were in a hundred thousand dollars debt’ we register this as them being transparent and vulnerable to the audience.
We never think to ask, “are you still poor?” “do you still live in your car?” or “do you still have debts?” Maybe we should – after all, so many businesses that seem on top of everything, that are constantly in the press one day spouting advice on building a successful empire end up going into liquidation a week later. Maybe we should start being honest with exactly how honest we are being.
Visakan responded to the hype surrounding Mese with a satirical article also published on Medium titled How To Bullshit Everybody With An Inspirational Success Story, Sans Facts.
In his article Visakan targets the way in which our entrepreneurial ecosystem uses social media to portray ourselves. It is pointed out that those #livingthedream beach photos are a staple to the ‘entrepreneur porn’ diet. And let’s be honest, they are everywhere. Every time I see one, I think to myself: how the fuck is working on your laptop at the beach productive? Isn’t the sun shining on your screen? What is the actual point of being at the beach getting sand all up in your bits if you are really working? How the hell are you building an ’empire’ when you are at the beach and you are only 4 months into your business?
Then I start to get paranoid.
Am I a big fat fucking loser that will never get to live the dream because I am working at a desk in my office? Will I never reach the point of profitability that these people have? What am I doing wrong? Am I just a really shit entrepreneur?
And then I pull my head in and look deeper into what is actually behind the pictures, the quotes and the “I was a successful corporate, then I left and became really bloody povo’ and then I climbed out of that hole and now I live a happy life doing what I love and travel the world” posts.
Many of these people may have a registered business or a company, that is true. But a lot of them are one man and woman shows that have zero overheads, that don’t have employees and NONE of them are actually feeding you ANY useful business advice that you can implement into your venture. If the business content you are consuming is fluffy and feel good, it is most probably ‘entrepreneur porn’.
Having said that, from a different perspective ‘entrepreneur porn’ can be a great marketing tool. Businesses like Startup Vitamins and Valley Girl (US Web Show) have massive followings and have this type of content core to what they do.
Closer to home, many actual successful organisations such as The Entourage, League of Extraordinary Women and Kochies Business Builders all use elements of ‘entrepreneur porn’ in their marketing activities, and it works, because that type of content draws in both the entrepreneurs and the ‘wantrepreneurs’.
This whole concept of ‘entrepreneur porn’ has it’s uses. But unlike the above organisations, when the ‘feel good’ content isn’t backed up with tangible results and data – we start to mix up the definition of entrepreneur and lifestyle. One is about pursuing profit. The other is your stupid beach pictures.