Great entrepreneurs are not visionaries or risk takers — they just have better economic modeling skills than the rest of us. This may help explain the success of some entrepreneurs, but for most people who build actual companies, it just doesn’t wash. The vast majority of businesses are created not to produce as much wealth as possible but rather to give their founders a pleasant life and a sense of personal satisfaction. Yes, most entrepreneurs want to make money, but they are perfectly happy without making billions of dollars a year. They are not predators; they are farmers.
Perhaps because there is small glory in being a farmer, successful entrepreneurs rarely describe themselves this way. Read most corporate histories and you are left with a sense of the founder as master of the universe, not a mere lifestyle entrepreneur. That term, which often carries undertones of laziness, usually describes the sort of person who runs a bar, a sailing school, or a travel company. Lifestyle entrepreneurs, we assume, are of a different species from the ambitious sort Gladwell has in mind. But that is not true, either, and Tim O’Reilly is proof.
“This is a lifestyle business that got out of control,” O’Reilly said when we first met. O’Reilly is 55 and has a craggy, weatherworn face, and he speaks with the warm self-confidence of someone who knows a lot more than you do but is happy to share. “My original business model — I actually wrote this down — was ‘interesting work for interesting people.’ ”
And that’s all there is, really.