Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

I had the opportunity recently to speak on a panel for an economics class at Stanford. A young woman from the class, afterwards, reached out to me via email. She had lots of questions for me, including "Do you think being an entrepreneur is an 'intrinsic' quality? How can I determine if I have it?"

Ah, the age old question: Are entrepreneurs born or made? The answer is Yes. It's like the question of nature versus nurture. A question I live every day, as I'm an identical twin. I'm also an entrepreneur. But I didn't realize that until I was 33 years old.

I didn't look like an entrepreneur growing up. I didn't even have a paper route. The circumstances of my childhood were rough, so while kids I knew had lemonade stands, I was busy surviving a dysfunctional home life—which, turns out, is a pretty important entrepreneurial skill.

Yet it took many years and many jobs before I realized I wasn't happy and didn't seem to quite fit in. I knew I needed something else, but I didn't know what. It wasn't until a friend quit his job and started his own business, that I was able to see entrepreneurship as possible for me.

So was I a born entrepreneur? I was born with insatiable curiosity, a sense of adventure, a love of learning and unyielding persistence, but I wasn't born spotting the opportunities.

The interesting thing about the young woman who reached out to me is she wasn't even a student in the class. She had heard a friend talk about the class and asked her friend if she could join. Then at the beginning of class she went up to the teacher and asked him if he minded if she sat in. Then after the class she asked the teacher for my email and wrote me with her questions.

Does she have an intrinsic quality? I'd say yes. I think it's hard to teach that kind of initiative. Will she be an entrepreneur? That depends on her exposure—which I believe is the "made" part. If her experiences teach her how to spot opportunities and make a business out of them, she could easily be an entrepreneur.

I do think more people have this intrinsic quality, but to become an entrepreneur does require clearing away some mental clutter—all those messages from families, our culture that would have you believe you're supposed to do/be something other than what you are. Maybe the answer is more entrepreneurs are born than realized.

For more on entrepreneurship, see