Just say no?
Now, I have to confess that I did not come to The Entrepreneur Equation as a disinterested party. Both my parents had been entrepreneurs, I ran my own company for a decade, my wife had her own company, and I've worked for other entrepreneurs. In the current job market, the temptation to just “do it yourself” is very strong, as there are lots of extremely capable people “out on the street” who, for whatever reason, can't find a job. And, as regular readers of this space will realize, I'm presently in that category, now in my 23rd month of not having a regular job (although, thankfully, my freelance/consulting hours are growing).
This fact strongly colored my impression of Ms. Roth's book.
The web is swimming in complimentary buzz about this book, with quotes floating around along the lines of “The Best Book Ever on Entrepreneurship”, and I had somewhat expected that this was going to be filled with material on what “today's entrepreneur needs to succeed”. While one can argue that the book is set up to prevent the would-be entrepreneur from failing horribly, it's in the manner that one can try to classify “not collecting stamps” as a hobby. I do not believe that there is a single sentence in this book encouraging entrepreneurial ventures. Not a one ... despite the fact that the government says that half the private sector work force are employed by small businesses (and that's not even counting the “self employed”). Where do these businesses come from? Entrepreneurs. If you don't have entrepreneurs creating jobs, the horrendous job market would be that much worse. And, frankly, the “take-away” from The Entrepreneur Equation it that pretty much everybody should never ever ever start their own business.
The “equation” of the title appears to be a series of self-assessments that Roth walks the reader through, assessments that I can't imagine one in a thousand people reading the book could honestly say “hey, that's for me!”. This book is a step-by-step tour of what can go terribly wrong in a business, and all the unpleasant things that running a business entails. At at each point, this is framed in relation to leaving one's current employment, with nearly zero attention given to the fact that there are vast numbers of people out there that don't have that option! I know several people who have, after years of beating their heads against the walls separating them from “real jobs”, simply given up and started their own things … because they could see no other alternative. I don't know what world Carol Roth is living in, but the plight of the highly-competent long-term unemployed doesn't seem to be on her radar … maybe that's not on the curriculum when one's getting Magna Cum Laude at the Wharton School of Business.
Obviously, if you are wanting to “save” somebody from what you think will be a terrible mistake, this is the book to give them … but there is not the slightest shred of “encouragement” here, with the one (somewhat bizarre in context) exception of an end-of-chapter recommendation of Timothy Ferriss' The Four-Hour Workweek (which is as close to 180° from this for entrepreneurial vision as possible!). The focus of this book is why you shouldn't even consider starting a business, how the deck is hopelessly stacked against you (especially if you are currently employed in a nice job with dependable salary and benefits), and detailing, in gruesome particulars, what all can (and is likely to) go wrong. Again, if you don't have a job, I guess you're already written off. The closest thing that Roth might have as “hope” for the unemployed might be her lowest level of business types, the “jobbie”, which involves taking something you're passionate about and trying to make some money at it.
This is one of the categories she puts businesses in, “The Jobbie”, the “Job-Business”, (Franchises - which she considers to be between these), and a “Bona-Fide Business”. She sees “Jobbies” as useful as they allow (those currently employed) the opportunity to “test the water” with a product or concept to see if there might be a market for it, but she doesn't have much good to say for anything other than a major operation with lots of assets and layers of personnel.
I must admit, there were sections here which could have been written about my old publishing company … both highlighting the problems I knew we had, and some others that I didn't. Oddly, this bothered me less than the somewhat blanket (a heavy, wet blanket) assertion that “entrepreneurship is so different and challenging in today's environment than it was generations ago and ... the risks of starting, buying, franchising, and generally owning a business might not justify the potential rewards.”
I'm not saying that Ms. Roth's analysis isn't strongly reality-based, but that if everybody read this book, and took its assessments seriously, there would be maybe only ONE business starting for every ten thousand would-be entrepreneurs who considered it … which would no doubt result in massive unemployment (by essentially removing the “small business” sector!) and some sort of dystopian governmental or corporate system coming in to pick up the slack … or at least that's my take on this.
Anyway, if you (or somebody you think is unsuited to start a business) needs to be talked out of their dreams, by all means pick up a copy of The Entrepreneur Equation, as I can't imagine a more efficient tome for disabusing the vast majority of people from any hope of succeeding in business. This is, as noted, brand new ... so it should be out there in the remaining brick-and-mortar bookstores, but both Amazon and BN.com have it at 30-something percent off, so that would probably be your best bet if you were looking to check this out.