ENTREPRENEURSHIP is never as easy as depicted in Hollywood films and the stereotype of the start-up founder is not representative of the technology world. Here are six myths about what it takes to make it as an entrepreneur:
1 Entrepreneurs are a product of nature
A COMMON belief is that entrepreneurs are born and cannot be made.
But my research team found that, of 549 successful entrepreneurs we surveyed in 2009, 52 per cent were the first in their immediate families to start a business.
Only a quarter of the sample had caught the entrepreneurial bug when in college. Half did not even think about entrepreneurship then, and they had little interest in it when in school.
Look at some of the most successful entrepreneurs: Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Jan Koum.
They did not come from entrepreneurial families. Their parents were dentists, academics, lawyers, factory workers or priests.
2 The best entrepreneurs are young
SILICON Valley investors openly tout their preference for younger entrepreneurs. One famous investor said: "People under 35 are the ones who make change happen... people over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas."
In response, Mr Koum, the founder of WhatsApp - the most expensive technology acquisition ever - wrote on Quora: "I incorporated WhatsApp on the day of my 33rd birthday. I had no idea I only had two years left."
My research teams documented that the average and median age of successful technology company founders when they started their companies had been 40.
We learnt that as many had been older than 50 as had been younger than 25; twice as many had been over 60 as under 20.
Mr Reid Hoffman was 36 when he founded LinkedIn. Mr Reed Hastings was 37 when he founded Netflix; Mr Mark Pincus was 41 when he started Zynga.
3 Dropping out is the way to go
PAYPAL billionaire Peter Thiel made headlines when he announced four years ago that he would pay students US$100,000 (S$125,000) to drop out of college. He wanted to prove that higher education is overpriced and unnecessary.
His effort proved a dismal failure and the Thiel Foundation quietly refocused its efforts on providing an alternative form of education to dropouts. Several of its sponsored dropouts returned to school. That is because there is no substitute for education.
My research team found that, on average, companies founded by college graduates have twice the sales and employment of companies founded by people who had not gone to college.
What matters is that the entrepreneur completes a baseline of education; the field of education and ranking of the college do not play a significant role in entrepreneurial success.
4 Female entrepreneurs can't cut it in the tech world
WOMEN-FOUNDED firms receive hardly any venture capital (VC) investments; they are almost absent in high-level technology positions; they contribute to fewer than 5 per cent of IT patents and 1.2 per cent of open-source software.
Do female founders receive less VC backing because women are different? Not at all. Research by National Centre for Women & Information Technology revealed there are almost no differences in success factors between male and female company founders.
Men and women are equally likely to have children at home when they start their businesses. They have the same motivations; are of the same age when founding their start-ups; have similar levels of experience; and equally enjoy the start-up culture.
Women-led companies are more capital-efficient, and venture-backed companies run by a woman have 12 per cent higher revenues than others.
5 Entrepreneurship requires venture capital
MANY would-be entrepreneurs believe that without a venture capitalist to invest in them, they cannot start a firm. That view reflected reality a few years ago. But capital costs for technology are no longer in the millions of dollars.
A US$500 laptop has more computing power today than supercomputers that cost US$17.5 million in 1985. Cloud computing and storage cost practically nothing. Sensors such as those in smartphones cost a few dollars or cents.
Venture capital follows innovation. If entrepreneurs build new technologies that customers need or love, money will come to them. They do not need to wait for venture funding to start.
6 The tech world is for techies
A COMMON belief is that start-up CEOs need to be engineers. But Mr Jobs and his Apple devices taught the world that, though good engineering is important, what matters the most is good design.
My research at Duke and Harvard looked into the educational backgrounds of 652 US-born CEOs and heads of product engineering in 2008. We found that only 37 per cent held degrees in engineering or computer technology and just 2 per cent held them in mathematics. The rest had degrees in fields as diverse as business, accounting, finance, health care and arts and the humanities.
Critical thinking, communication and scientific validation are skills in short supply in the tech world. And these are skills that are abundant in the humanities.
Look at some of the most successful entrepreneurs: Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Jan Koum. They did not come from entrepreneurial families. Their parents were dentists, academics, lawyers, factory workers or priests.