233: Entrepreneurship isn't genetic. It’s memetic.

Download MP3

Welcome to the Bootstrapped Founder. My name is Arvid Kahl and I talk about bootstrapping, entrepreneurship and building in public.

Today we will dive into how people become entrepreneurs and more often than not,

how the stories that we tell ourselves and that are told throughout the generations around us

can massively impact if we start that business or not.

The nature versus nurture debate.

And entrepreneurship takes a special place in there and the digital economy has changed something in that debate forever.

Before we get to that, let me thank the sponsor of this episode, Acquire.com.

Imagine this. You're a founder who has built a solid SaaS product and you've acquired customers

and that is generating consistent monthly recurring revenue.

The problem is that you're not growing for whatever reason it may be,

lack of focus, lack of skill or just plain lack of interest in the business after such a long time and you feel stuck.

What should you do?

Well, the story that I would like to hear at this point is that you buckled down and somehow reignited that fire within.

You got past yourself and the cliches around business and you start working on your business rather than in the business.

You start building an audience and move out of your comfort zone and do sales and marketing and all these things.

And six months later, you've tripled your revenue.

Well, the reality is not that simple.

Situations may be different for every founder who's facing this particular crossroad,

but too many times the story ends up being one of inaction and stagnation

until the business that you own becomes less valuable or even worse, worthless.

If you find yourself here or your story is likely headed down a similar road,

I offer you a third option.

Consider selling your business on Acquire.com.

Capitalizing on the value of your time is the smart move.

Acquire.com is free to list and they've helped hundreds of founders already.

Go to try.acquire.com/arvid and see for yourself if this is the right option for you.

And now let's talk nature versus nurture.

Entrepreneurship is not something that we inherit or that's solely a matter of genetics.

As a first generation founder myself, I believe that it's profoundly influenced by the ideas and values that we adopt.

When we closely examine how entrepreneurs are raised and what drives them,

we begin to notice intriguing similarities that spark questions about where their entrepreneurial spirit really comes from.

Is it an inherent trait that we are born with or is it something that we develop and learn over time?

In my view, entrepreneurship is not solely a genetic predisposition that's just passed down through families.

That's too simple.

The fact that we're seeing so many first-gen entrepreneurs in families that have been employees for decades,

sometimes centuries, suggests something else.

The entrepreneurial spirit that I see in people is a result of the ideas and narratives and values that we learn from those around us

and the environments in which we grow up.

And that's why we're seeing this explosion of entrepreneurship around us right now.

Around us means so much more than what it meant just a few generations ago.

In the past, most people were severely limited by the narratives repeated by their small social circles.

They just didn't get around much and had only the same people around them.

So whoever they were surrounded by was often their only source of stories about what a good life looks like.

And often the opposite to horror stories and warnings and social taboos.

Well, they were all equally passed down through the stories that we tell each other.

The smaller the group, the more homogenous the stories.

Renowned biologist Richard Dawkins introduced this concept of memes as thoughts and ideas that are transmitted from one generation to another.

It means just like the way genes evolve play a crucial role in shaping our perspectives and behaviors in a society.

And in the context of entrepreneurship, the transmission of entrepreneurial thinking as a meme within families

dramatically influences the development of an entrepreneurial mindset.

If you see your parents charge into starting new businesses every few years, you learn that that's a good way to live.

And that's OK. If you're raised to experiment with ideas and you see where they go,

well, you're exposed to being a founder before you even know what a founder is.

But the same process can and will be used against you.

Being imbued with limiting beliefs and exposed to negative concepts of entrepreneurship

that will suppress entrepreneurial thought and action from a very early age.

Our social circle sometimes shares horror scenarios discouraging us from taking risks and venturing into the entrepreneurial realm.

I experienced that too.

I spent a lot of time in my young life as a kid with my grandparents and they had retired from a life of working for the government.

So they've been kind of on a safe path.

Their lifelong path of safety was just working for the biggest employer possible.

And for them, getting me through school and then go to university and then into a well-paid job, that was the highest priority in life.

Any deviation from that path was always met with very strong criticism.

And in what I can only call a bizarrely ironic twist, my grandparents actually started an entrepreneurial venture after they retired.

They started importing and selling fine glassware in the middle of Europe.

And I was often tasked to help my grandpa label and sort the inventory where I made some of my first money as a kid.

But that venture, even though it was entrepreneurial, wasn't a real job for them.

A real job was at a desk, not in a garage, stacking inventory for what seemed to be a lucrative business.

But a lifetime of employment had blurred out running your own business as a career all by itself for them.

And challenging these suppressing narratives is crucial for empowering these aspiring entrepreneurs around us.

Paul Millard, who I had on the show, for instance, presents arguments against go to school, get a job, have a career mindset that we see in the baby boomer generation.

He calls out that the last 70 years were just an anomaly of uninterrupted economic growth.

You didn't have a cushy safe path for most of humanity's time on the planet.

You needed to adapt to be ready to pivot if nature throws an obstacle your way.

There was no default path for the longest time.

And I recognize this very strongly now that I've moved from Berlin to small town Canada.

I'm surrounded by farmers here mostly.

And the resourcefulness that independence fostered among farmers compared to the people who worked in government all their life,

the people here who've been required to adapt and plan for the long term and understand the value of investments that is palpable in how people structure their lives.

Kids growing up here in small town Canada, they are encouraged to experiment with small entrepreneurial ventures.

From mowing people's lawns to operating seasonal ice cream trucks, I've seen it all.

And that is just in my family.

It's very, very entrepreneurial here.

So if you have these entrepreneurial peers, you will see entrepreneurship at work.

And that normalizes the activity and it also normalizes failure.

The phrase I told you so often echoes from non-entrepreneurial peers at the slightest sign of messing up.

And it serves as a pushback to the default path rather than encouraging encouraging perseverance and resilience.

And that is that's kind of sad, right?

There's a socioeconomic angle to this as well.

Delayed gratification.

It's a concept that was once explored in the marshmallow experiment.

I recommend you looking that up.

Offers insight into development of entrepreneurial traits.

The experiment revealed that children exposed to stable circumstances tend to have an easier time delaying gratification.

And this connection suggests that socioeconomic status plays a significant role in developing core traits associated with entrepreneurship,

such as financial wisdom or sticking with the long term vision and stability of expectation.

And that experiment further supports the notion that entrepreneurship is not solely a product of genetics,

but is extremely heavily impacted by the influence of parents and peers and the stability of their lives.

I'm just going to recount the experiment here.

I think they had two groups of children and they put marshmallows in front of them.

Those are kids and kids love marshmallows.

So they were trying to see if they could tell them, well, we don't eat that marshmallow and you'll get another marshmallow in like once I come back into the room.

That was the idea, I think.

And they had two groups of kids.

One group was just kids that were exposed to prior to the experiment, some kind of stability, like stability of expectations.

They told them something and then they followed up on it.

So those kids were primed to expect stable circumstances.

And on the other side of the experiment, they were telling kids something effectively a lie and made these kids feel like things were unstable.

And then both of these groups were put in front of marshmallows.

And it turned out that the kids who had the stability just prior to the experiment had a much easier time to not eat the marshmallow in anticipation of the second marshmallow.

Whereas the kids were kind of lied to and had unstable circumstances.

They were much more likely to grab the marshmallow now instead of getting two when the person came back in.

So their expectation was this is not a stable situation.

I'm going to get this right now.

And that kind of impacts how we approach long term thinking.

That's what the study suggests.

And I find that maps pretty well onto entrepreneurship.

If you can invest in yourself and get the payoff a couple of years, if not decades in the future, if you trust the process there,

you're much more likely to build something meaningful along the way than if you grab at every single opportunity that is right in front of you and try to monetize everything as soon as you can.

There's a lot of stability that is required for you to be able to think that.

But it's not just stability.

It's not just an all nurture.

Nature plays a role here, too.

And certainly the specific character traits that make it much easier to develop an interest in entrepreneurship.

Kids are different and some of them are better, more prone to be entrepreneurs.

Things like genuine curiosity or this compulsion to tinker with ideas and concepts and even a strong sense of rebellion against the status quo.

Well, that can pave the way into entrepreneurial pursuits and recognizing and empowering these aptitudes within kids can fuel their entrepreneurial aspirations.

That's where we get back to nurture the absence of suppressive narratives and the presence of nurturing empowering stories is really, really crucial for fostering this entrepreneurial spirit in people,

families, schools and society at large plays a significant role in either hindering or promoting these narratives.

And I was lucky enough, even though I was strongly advised to follow my academic pursuits by my parents and grandparents.

But my curiosity for things outside that realm was never actively suppressed.

My family looked at my interest in gaming and computer stuff with some suspicion.

But they knew that I found something there that gave me great joy.

And I'm glad they understood it.

I'm glad they tried to understand it.

I don't think they really got it.

And I can't really blame them for that.

They just had no frame of reference.

But I found people who did understand it.

I found my fellow nerds, my people on the Internet.

And I think that's the biggest change that we've experienced in the recent, I don't know, 50, 60 years.

Like in today's interconnected world, the power of the digital realm enables us to access stories beyond our immediate surroundings, beyond our families, beyond our circle of friends.

Gone are the days where our friends were exclusively determined by which school we went to or in what city we live.

That is over.

We can now explore the lives and the narratives, which are even more important, of those who have successfully achieved what we aspire to.

In the entrepreneurial realm or anywhere else, we can find other people like us.

But no longer confined to the traditional narratives imposed by family, school or social systems.

We can choose to learn from those who have navigated the journeys that we strive to be on and find inspiration to pursue things like financial stability and a more impactful life in those people because they care about it just as much.

The influence of these diverse stories facilitated by the digital world that we dive into when we look at our screens carries more weight than genetic predisposition alone.

I believe that in my own life, I flourished massively for the very first time when I found the IRC chat network.

Or I guess it's the Internet Relay Chat Network in 2001.

Suddenly, I had instant connectivity with people who, like me, love to code and watch anime and read a lot of science fiction.

I had no real world friends who shared this with me.

But on the Internet Relay Chat Network, on IRC, I found hundreds of them and they allowed me to be myself because they allowed themselves to be themselves.

And quite unsurprisingly, many of these newfound friends were also quite industrious.

They had an interest in business.

They showed me that the narratives in my family weren't the only ones out there.

And at its core, entrepreneurship requires a willingness to take risks, to look the other way, to look somewhere else, to experiment and drive change.

That is a big part of it, right?

To be interested in what is beyond what I currently know.

And some of that can be learned, but some of that needs to be in you already, at least as a potential.

And while some individuals possess this natural inclination for novelty and risk taking,

I think there's something much more important here when we look at people and how they can become entrepreneurs.

I think it's accepting one's ability to initiate change.

You can learn to be an entrepreneur.

And the first step is to accept that you can change from non-entrepreneur to entrepreneur by yourself.

You don't need permission. You don't need genetics.

You just need to want to do it.

And in the global village of the Internet and the digital economy, entrepreneurship therefore transcends genetic boundaries.

Nurturing entrepreneurial traits through exposure to diverse stories or communities and experiences

empowers individuals, ourselves and hopefully our offspring one day, to embrace taking our own future into our own hands more confidently.

I think entrepreneurship emerges as a product of nurture, driven by the influence of ideas, the narratives and the values

that are happening in the pursuit of transformative impact by the people around us and then ourselves.

So find the others and listen to their stories.

And that's it for today.

Thank you for listening to the Boots of Founder.

You can find me on Twitter at @ArvidKahl, A-R-V-I-D-K-A-H-L.

You'll find my books and my Twitter course there too.

If you want to support me in the show, please subscribe to my YouTube channel, get the podcast in your podcast player of choice

and leave a rating and a review by going to rate this podcast dot com slash founder.

Any of this will truly help the show.

So thanks so much for listening and have a wonderful day.

Creators and Guests

Arvid Kahl
Arvid Kahl
Empowering founders with kindness. Building in Public. Sold my SaaS FeedbackPanda for life-changing $ in 2019, now sharing my journey & what I learned.
233: Entrepreneurship isn't genetic. It’s memetic.
Broadcast by