What is a protopreneur?
We’ve all heard of entrepreneurs, haven’t we? And most know what a ‘micropreneur’ is. And a ‘solopreneur’ too. Even ‘mumpreneurs’ (and ‘Dadpreneurs’, according to Rachel Elnaugh). But what’s a ‘protopreneur’? It’s a made-up word, just like all the rest. Well, apart from entrepreneur – which, according to Dubya, is something the French don’t have a word for! (1)
It comes from the Greek ‘proÂtos’ (first), which itself comes from ‘pro’ (before). Proto- tends to mean the form immediately before something emerges. For example a ‘prototype’ is the nearly-finished product, from which the final item that goes to market is developed. And ‘protoplasm’ is the earliest form of living matter, from which emerges all living organisms. ‘Proto-‘ means the very start, the point just before the actual thing itself is born.
OK, so that’s the derivation. But what actually *is* a ‘protopreneur’? I use it to describe a person who is standing at the brink of entrepreneurship – still in a job, but somehow certain that you should be doing doing something for yourself. You may even have an idea what you’d love to be doing, yet something’s holding you back from taking that first step – keeping you at the ‘proto-preneur’ stage, right on the cusp.
That hesitation, that niggling doubt, that obstacle to just taking the leap of faith, could just be nerves. Or it could be something more, it could be your intuition telling you that something’s not quite right, that for you this isn’t quite the right time, that there’s a fatal flaw in your plan. And the trouble is, it’s very hard to tell whether you’re holding back through procrastination or perceptiveness.
And you don’t have to be still in a job to be one. A lot of people remain in the protopreneur stage for quite some time after they leave employment, as you try to work out exactly what it is you do. In fact, from my experience, I’d say a good half of the people you meet around the networking circuit are in the protopreneur phase for a maybe a year, even two, as you try your hand at various things that seem like they’ll be fun or they’ll make your fortune, before finding that one thing you can stick at.
I’ve been there, I’ve been that protopreneur, on both sides of the employment divide, and I’ve seen it so often in others, I’m now on a mission to move protopreneurs on, to help them find their laser focus, to see them set firm on a course that will take them where they want to go.