The Religion of Entrepreneurship

All the focus on the Pope's departure from the Vatican has got me thinking about the meaning of religion.  Those ruminations have led me to a surprising conclusion:  one of the reasons the force of entrepreneurship has become so powerful in recent years around the world is that entrepreneurship has evolved into a global religious movement.

Wikipedia defines religion as follows:

Religion is an organized collection of belief systemscultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values.

Similarly, the start-up world has evolved into a set of shared beliefs and values.  For example, the notion of Pay it Forward has become a core part of the entrepreneurial ethos.  In religious communities, when someone is in need, the community rallies around them.  People do kind things to other people just because it is the right thing to do.  The start-up world has a similar share value – investors, CEOs and service providers throughout the entrepreneurial ecosystem are always willing to lend a hand, donate time and provide guidance and counsel.  When I talk to entrepreneurs I've never met before, I always have a sense that we are kindred spirits on a shared journey.  There is an immediate connection and mutual respect, just as I feel when I meet a member of my religion (Judaism).

The canonical texts of the entrepreneurial world are firmly established and widely read.  Although they haven't sold as well as the Bible, there are a set of books that nearly every member of the entrepreneurial ecosystem has read, including:  Crossing the Chasm, The Lean Start-Up and Four Steps to the Epiphany.  Even those who have not studied these books and their derivative works are familiar with the concepts.  

The cultural force of entrepreneurship is a powerful one.  This force and the cultural norms they impose can vary from the profound (it is no longer ok to look down on the "little guy/gal" in business, young people are now listened to more carefully and given more opportunities to have an impact) to the mundane (it is now ok to wear jeans to a serious professional meeting, it is no longer ok to pull out a Blackberry in a meeting as opposed to the iPhone).  The binds that tie the community together are strong.  I can walk into a start-up event in Sao Paolo, Jakarta or Little Rock and have the same dialog about the same concepts – just as I can when I walk into a synagogue on Friday night anywhere in the world and feel at home.

The prophets of entrepreneurship have been firmly established.  Paul Graham, Steve Blank, Eric Ries and a few others have risen to a status such that anything they say or write is followed closely by hundreds of thousands of followers.  The entrepreneurial community reads all the same blogs and debates the same issues around the world.  Certain corporate leaders, such as Steve Jobs (who, arguably, was practically deified in the wake of his tragic death) are also viewed with such reverence that they can command massive followings and sway opinion.

I could go on, but you get the point.  I'm not sure what to do with this observation, but I think it represents a profound undercurrent that drives the start-up system in a very positive way.  I'd be curious if others see it similarly.

9 thoughts on “The Religion of Entrepreneurship

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  3. That’s a good point – I think I’m referring more to Orthodox and to some extent Conservative customs. Reform certainly has taken the perspective of flexibility with the times. Maybe someday we can discuss in more detail, it’s an interesting parable.


  4. A few weeks ago I listened to Jason Calacanis on the TWiSt podcast launch into a rant about how he wanted to start a religion for “startups”. I thought it all pretty silly until you made the case using actual analogies to real religious concepts. Maybe the worlds are in fact colliding, is an all online congregation.


  5. Agree Jeff. I read this post recently that talks about how we might be living in the “entrepreneurship age”.
    Folks in the entrepreneurial ecosystem realize how hard it is to get a company off the ground and that might partially explain the religion-like bond we feel with each other


  6. Jeff – very interesting analogy. As a fellow Jew, the main *difference* I would stress is that religion in general relies on traditions that are immutable and must be followed, whereas startups promote and stress pivoting – and the rules of entrepreneurship change and evolve over time. It’s an area I discuss with my Jewish friends often – if we could evolve some of the rules of Shabbat, Kashrut, etc. to reflect modern day times, I would have a much easier time being in sync with our faith.


    • Interesting perspective. I would argue that the magic of Judaism is that you can, indeed, modify the rules through interpretation. But then again, I’m not an Orthodox Jew. I’m not sure the entrepreneurial analogy of Orthodoxy vs. Reform!


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