As a kid I loved westerns. In fact, I still do. My favorite show was Bonanza and Young Guns was one of my favorite movies. I've always had a kind of love affair with the idea of the West. The freedom, the open spaces, the rugged individualism, and no rules, always attracted me. The reality was surely different but the ideas and ideals were what got me. I still feel shaped by growing up watching Clint Eastwood in the spaghetti westerns.
As an entrepreneur, these same ideals still attract me and speak to me. Being an entrepreneur is a lot like being a pioneer. You have a vague idea of where you're going, but you're not sure how to get there and you know most people don't make it. And yet, you start the journey anyway. It takes a lot of courage, a little stupidity and faith that you will get there, maybe not in one piece, but you'll get there.
Recently I was thinking what would be the old West equivalent to today's entrepreneurs, and I came up with three main categories.
(1) The town General Store or Saloon owner: This would be today's small business owners. These people open up shop and serve and support their community. If you needed a shovel and a bag of seed, well, you knew where to go. These folks look for a niche and a need and move forward, whether they are store owners, bar operators, hoteliers, or restaurateurs. They may not be sexy or romantic but they serve a purpose, fill a need and they're usually the wealthiest people in town.
(2) Traveling Salesman: This is the person selling goods from town to town, never staying in one place too long. With no internet, they needed to physically cart their wares around, and put them in front of people's faces. I imagine this as one part infomercial and one part food truck. Of course, this group also contained the infamous snake oil salesman, who we still have today. These people over promise and under deliver, and then head for the hills. The delivery method may have changed, but if you look at Kickstarter, you'll see people still hawking their goods, some good, some bad, and some just plain wrong.
(3) Gunslinger: It might seem like a strange comparison but many entrepreneurs are related to the gunslingers of old. The mantra of hustle and hack was what gunslingers did. They traveled a road few others did. They looked for opportunities, wherever they may be. Sometimes they were the sheriff and sometimes they were hired guns, but they always felt above the law. Single minded and individualistic, they found a way to succeed or they didn't last long. Sometimes they partnered up. Sometimes they led a gang or a posse. But even when surrounded by others, they stood alone. Steve Jobs would have been the baddest gunslinger west of the Mississippi. In fact, he was.
In today's world, we are governed by rules, regulations and laws, to control that part of our nature that get a little, shall we say, over zealous. But any business owner or entrepreneur has a yearning to be their own person and make their own way. And in that they share a common bond and a heritage with the men and women who came before them.
Now let's ride off into the sunset.
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