For an entrepreneur, if it is possible to make it better, she must make it better. If it is possible to make it more accessible, she must make it more accessible. If it is impossible to make it better or broader, she innovates.

Starting a great Italian restaurant is not entrepreneurship because the proprietors make no attempt to scale it. Running McDonald’s is not entrepreneurship because they make no serious attempt to build a better product. Apple is an entrepreneurial venture because it is in the business of delivering ever-increasing quality at higher scale.

There is no tradeoff between quality and scale

Quality measures how far a product advances the customer. Scale measures how many people use it.

For entrepreneurs, there is no tradeoff between quality and scale. The job is to do both—not one or the other. If it can’t be done, you innovate.

Quality without scale is not entrepreneurship—it is a tree falling in the forest with no one around.

Scale without quality is also not entrepreneurship—it is business as usual. And it leaves businesses exposed to competitors who steal its customers (and, worse, employees).

Anyone who attempts to serve a customer at a new level of quality and scale is an entrepreneur. Anyone who does not, is not.

If you’re interested in helping entrepreneurs never reach the finish line, AngelList is always hiring engineers and designers.

Related: Startups are here to save the world

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Topics Philosophy

11 comments · Show

  • Tomas

    This is such sophistry and nonsense. The author should feel shamed for abusing the English language and the discipline of rhetoric.

    • Brad

      Tough critique for an otherwise solid and Seth Godin-esque post.

      I think it’s a quick and focused reminder of the very macro needs that entrepreneurs must address in a myriad of micro ways.

      Rock on, you shameful author, you ;-)

  • Hilina

    Thanks for sharing! Interesting definition of entrepreneurship ..So is Michael Dell not an entrepreneur? Dell’s driver for scaling was faster TTM, cheaper, lower quality products…In this case, quality is compromised by scale/speed….

  • cb

    Can’t we just get rid of the whole damn word. And while we’re at it throw out inventor also. They both ahve been so abused the need a rest. You’re not an inventor because you invented something than doesn’t work or no one needs and you’re not an entrepreneur unless you created jobs and stayed in business. Plus it’s too hard to spell.

  • cb

    Sorry about spelling errors. My keyboard was invented by an idiot and made by an entrepreneur.

  • Kalli Doubleday

    I like this spin on entrepreneurship. It just keeps me pushing forward knowing others get why we always strive for a better, quicker, and a more valuable “product.”

  • Kerry Snyder

    This strikes me as a rather forced attempt to maim the definition of a word. “Entrepreneur” was used early on to describe the manager of a theatrical production. It translates literally to something like “undertaker” from the French. So while I applaud the spirit of the post, I hope readers will be careful not to take its message literally. The couple that opens a franchised restaurant in their town are most certainly entrepreneurs, they are just less ambitious or innovative than some. Let’s not cut the less ambitious out of the category entirely.

    • Brad Patterson

      I can identify with your point, Kerry, and at the same time, words (and language) always change, otherwise we wouldn’t have the beautiful array of tongues heard all across the world today (even if they are on rampant decline).

      The meaning of “entrepreneur” in French was historically (1800s) the owner and manager of an entreprise, but it actually “downgraded” in the 1900s to mean the person running the entreprise and not necessarily owning/investing in it (more here, though in French: http://atilf.atilf.fr/dendien/scripts/tlfiv5/visusel.exe?11;s=16748145;r=1;nat=;sol=0; ).

      I’ll go out on a limb to say that today in French it’s actually swaying more towards the meaning that Nivi is associating it with in English— large internet scale-ups. Who’s to say that in 20 years “entrepreneur and businessman” do not have 2 very different denotations and connotations, much like the evolution of “geek” of the 1980s and the 2000s?

      Just as a quick clarification, entrepreneur never had the meaning “undertaker” aka “handle the deceased”, but did follow the sense of the verb one who “undertakes” a financial affair.

      Best from Paris,
      Brad

  • Andreas Ostheimer

    I don’t feel that those are good definitions for entrepreneurship as you could steal a product with the right quality and scale it. An entrepreneurs definition is wider than your binary explanation above.

  • Ian Gerald King

    I do feel that the binary divisions set up by the author are rather forced. I have always seen entrepreneurship as a fundamental promethean quality whereby the individual called an entrepreneur has the drive to initiate something of his own choosing – nobody told him what to do. Entrepreneurship, in my opinion has more to do with the initiatory behaviour of starting something. The notions of scale and quality are indeed important but they do not constitute the elements of the foundational definition of entrepreneurship. The pursuit of scale and quality are important for any entrepreneur but those pursuits are not integral to his definition as an entrepreneur.