Posted by: nickgerlich | April 28, 2008

Surreality

A hundred years ago, the term entrepreneur was defined by Joseph Schumpeter as “a person who destroys the existing economic order by introducing new products and services, creating new forms of organization, or by exploiting new raw materials.” Or, in other words, “someone who perceives an opportunity and creates an organization to pursue it.”

Those were glorious times, even if a pesky World War and later on the Great Depression interfered. Out of the primordial corporate soup arose such revolutionaries as Henry Ford, George Eastman (think: Kodak) as well as Will Keith Kellogg who went on to build product categories and brands that shaped our lives.

That entrepreneurial spirit has returned a century later. And even though we have experienced much bluster during this dotcom era, we can say that we have witnessed and embraced the visions of many forward-thinking people for whom the status quo is a speed bump on the path to better living. History has repeated itself.

In fact, it can be argued that we are now experiencing a new breed of business visionary, the serial entrepreneur, that rare individual who goes on to birth multiple companies or expands the core business into many new arenas.

AndreesenTake Marc Andreesen (picture right), for example. The founder of what started out as the Mosaic project, he ultimately produced the Netscape browser. Remember that? He wisely sold it to AOL (oh well) in 1999 for a tidy $4.2 billion. But since then he has teamed up with Gina Bianchini to launch Ning…but only after selling his Opsware company to HP for $1.6 billion. Cha-ching.

And then there’s Evan Williams, who sold his Blogger site to Google, and went on to found Twitter. And Sabeer Bhatia, founder of Hotmail. Bhatia sold it to Microsoft in 1998 for what now would be considered the bargain price of $500 million; late last year he launched LiveDocuments, a Google Docs-like site for online editing of Microsoft Office documents. And let’s not forget MySpace founder Brad Greenspan, whose LiveUniverse recently purchased Page Flakes.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos can also be counted among the repeat offenders. Not content to just sell books, CDs, and movies, Bezos has expanded the brand into every nook and cranny of our lives, as well as purchased countless related entities. Finally, let us not forget the creme de la creme, Google. Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin may look like computer geeks, but they are merely entrepreneurs dressed in code. The corporate culture of Google is one of innovate or buy, which accounts for its ever-widening stable of online products.

It’s a great time to be an entrepreneur again. The collective sitz im lieben of the early-1900s fostered the bootstrap-pulling ethos that spawned the companies that went on the define the American corporate landscape for the rest of the century. And now a different sitz im lieben is causing a new generation of entrepreneurs to leverage the digital, rather than industrial, playground to build the companies that are and will likely remain household names for many years to come.

There is hope after all for our economy.

Dr “Netscape? Who Uses Netscape?” Gerlich

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