Security: An Essay on Entrepreneurship

It’s July 2012, a sweltering summer evening in Tel Aviv. The kind where you just pray that if you keep calm, and walk just slightly with the occasional sea breeze, you won’t sweat completely through your clothes before arriving at your destination. I’m in my last month of a tough year. A year where I’ve balanced accelerated MBA course-loads from professors around the globe and the birth of my first business-- an adventure and eco-tourism company.

My social life is mostly marathon study sessions at cafes along the boulevard with my classmates, meetings with my business partners, and the occasional dinner with my roommate but tonight I’ve made an exception. My thesis advisor, Ophir has invited me to join him at his home for an event he calls, “Sundays at Betzalel” an international TED-talk style salon-- a monthly gathering at his home where he invites three people to present on “anything they’re passionate about”. I go with a sleep-deprived and foggy MBA brain, overly analytical, calculating the ROI of another few hours with my books versus a networking opportunity.

A stranger with a familiar face ushers me into an apartment with people from all over the world, multiple languages bouncing off the walls. After a hug and hello Ophir kindly pours me a glass of wine and cautions that, “if I don’t find a seat before the crowd comes, I may get stuck cross-legged on the floor, or worse, standing in the hallway”. I make my way to the couch with my wine, small talk about the weather and the brief, “where are you from”, “what do you do” story and then the evening begins.

Ophir calls everybody’s attention to the television where the first presenter has prepared a powerpoint. A young Israeli man, speaking in accented English, opens a debate about security. Not the type of security lecture most of us were used to hearing, having chosen a life in the Middle East-- but job security, livelihood security, and whether or not someone was more free as an entrepreneur or as a committed employee.

The room’s energy stirs, and broad opinions begin to flow:

“Entrepreneurs are more free, of course, they are in control of their freedom. They don’t have to report to a boss, they don’t have to work on days they don’t want to-- it’s the ultimate freedom.”

“Entrepreneurs just like everybody else are beholden to something and someone. They can be overly reliant on their employees, completely beholden to their investors, and while the illusion of not taking orders from anyone can be alluring, there is likely much more safety in working as a leader in a larger company that is not your own.”

The debate continues and I begin to formulate my opinion. I was spending the majority of my waking hours thinking about this very question in a rigorous course on Entrepreneurship. I was reading case study upon case study and analyzing and writing about these things all day. I was managing my own company and partners, our customers, and our first employee or two. That certainly didn’t feel like freedom at all. The illusion of freedom was there because I structured my days and didn’t punch a clock, but the cost:

worrying about sales,

cutting paychecks,

an upcoming customer request,

whether or not I had paid that new insurance premium,

well those things felt like the furthest thing from freedom.

With my comments ready and ego satisfied, I publicly enter into a conversation with an American man across the room who is quite iconically, well, American. He is loud, extremely self-assured and instead of hearing the opening argument of his opinion I’m mulling over which New York neighborhood he is likely from.

He’s an entrepreneur himself and he reminds the community that as an employee, you can be laid off any time. His voice is at least ten decibels too loud as he explains that the allure of perceived security doesn’t translate to freedom when there are other people making big decisions on behalf of a company that manages your work and livelihood.

The debate ends, some people pack up to go, some linger for another glass of wine and I trade information with the loud American. Our businesses are both based in the North of Israel and he asks to join us on our next community hike.

-

Four years later I married that man and now, after three years of marriage we still have that same conversation and debate. We lived that debate incarnate for years. Through much of our relationship one of us pursued an entrepreneurial passion or venture, and the other took their talents to the open market. We believed that one of us had to be responsible for health insurance and the more “secure” lifestyle while the other took risks.

He/she who held that coveted insurance policy was bitter, full of resentment, overworked, emotional, bored, and tired. He/she tried to mask those emotions by wielding power outside of the framework of the equal marriage both were searching for and had promised each other. The final straw didn’t break the camel’s back-- it flattened the camel and the seemingly calculated system imploded.

So what is a dual-entrepreneur household like? It’s kitchen conference calls, office swaps, late-night strategy sessions, random meals enjoyed together, lecturing each other about tax code and receipt organization, hosting colleagues, and clients, and friends.

And it’s not perfect, but it’s ours.