The combination of inexpensive technology, accessible virtual markets, and easy funding through crowdsourcing is changing the face of entrepreneurship. Today’s new business starters are socially sophisticated, willing to bear more risk than previous generations, and more likely to work out of a home or small office and rely on others for business processes. Some are small guerrilla outfits surfing from one hot concept to the next, and some are venture capital-funded geniuses with disruptor ideas.
It is a great time to start a new business – the best time in history.
The Keys to Success
America has always been the land of opportunity, the Mecca for entrepreneurship. While great fortunes have been made by immigrants and first-generation Americans such as Andrew Carnegie in steel, John D. Rockefeller in oil, and William A. Clark in copper, thousands of others formed successful small companies that provided financial security and employment for hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens.
The possibility of being responsible for one’s own fate has never been greater in the history of the country. Latent opportunities for new ideas and businesses have exploded exponentially, each new concept and novel interpretation of old methods pregnant with possibility, just waiting to be birthed. There are several key reasons why this is so.
1. Cultural Accommodation
For much of history, capitalism was restricted to the beneficiaries of high birth, ancestral wealth, and exclusive education. The wide-open spaces and untapped resources of the new continent in the 19th century shattered cultural norms that had existed for hundreds of years. Entrepreneurs flooded the country, exploiting new resources, new markets, and new technology to create the greatest industrial nation in the history of the world.
Despite the success, access to these new possibilities was unfortunately generally limited to white males. Minorities (except in their limited communities) and women were excluded, restricted by racial prejudice, cultural stereotypes, and inefficient educations.
America in the 21st century is a more open society and access continues to broaden regardless of sex or ethnicity – anyone smart enough and brave enough to create a new business can try. According to a 2013 American Express report, there are 8.6 million women-owned businesses in the country, generating more than $1.3 trillion in revenues and providing jobs for 7.8 million employees. The rate of growth between 1997 and 2013 in new women-owned businesses has been one and a half times the national average. In a U.S. Census News release in 2011, Tom Mesenbourg, deputy director of the U.S. Census Bureau, proclaimed, “The growth in the number of minority-owned firms – both employers and non-employers – has far outpaced that of businesses overall.”
Led by federal and state governments, programs to assist potential new business owners are readily accessible and generally free. An entrepreneur can access classes ranging from basic accounting, to sophisticated product and service contracting. Face-to-face onsite mentoring is available from organizations such as S.C.O.R.E., while municipalities, colleges and universities, and private businesses offer incubator facilities with administrative and accounting assistance at low cost. Federal laws require that a percentage of federal contracts be subcontracted to small businesses and provide detailed contracting assistance for those individuals and companies who seek such work.
Few people are aware that, in 2008, Igor Panarin, dean of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s academy for future diplomats, predicted that the United States would break into four separate countries in 2010. He believed that the national and regional effects of the recent recession, and the people’s dissatisfaction with the status quo and the Federal Government, would result in the creation of five distinct, autonomous, political regions.
Panarin divided the U.S. into these new republics:
1. Californian Republic. Idaho, Utah, Arizona, and all continental states west of them. Panarin predicted this group would fall under Chinese influence.
2. Central North-American Republic. He expected all states between Montana, Colorado, Missouri, and Ohio to be absorbed by Canada.
3. Atlantic America. Panarin believed the region from Maine to South Carolina and Tennessee would join the European Union.
4. Texas Republic. All southern states, plus Oklahoma and New Mexico. Panarin predicted this group would either become part of Mexico or form its own government.
5. Alaska and Hawaii. Panarin also believed that Alaska would become part of Russia, and Hawaii part of Japan or China.
While Panarin’s prediction was wrong, or perhaps premature, he was right in identifying regional clusters of dissatisfaction, and their desires for change. For example, California voters are considering a proposal by venture capitalist Tim Draper to split the large state into six smaller units, so that “people will be closer to their state governments.” If implemented, the region would have 10 more senators.
Another venture capitalist, Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, has funded the development of floating cities in international waters off the coast of California which would assume a libertarian form of government completely outside U.S. control. In Thiel’s view, these cities would be free of regulation, laws, and moral conventions. They would provide no welfare, impose no minimum wage, and have loose building codes and few restrictions on weapons. While such efforts may be considered extreme by some, they reflect an underlying sentiment that is very real.
The Lone Star Loophole
While California would need congressional approval to divide into smaller units, Texas may not actually have that same restriction. Some people argue that within the terms of annexation, when the Republic of Texas joined the Union in 1846, there exists a right reserved by the state to split into five smaller states. This theoretical transformation would allow the resulting region to have 10 senators, rather than two – and eight more electoral votes.
If you just retired, congratulations. You’ve received the gold watch, relished the looks of co-workers who envy your new freedom, and begun to plan that long-awaited European tour you had always hoped to take. Life is good, but you do have concerns – mainly, whether your future income can sufficiently cover your basic living expenses, plus those little extras that make retirement special.
Financial experts generally calculate that you need between 70% and 85% of your pre-retirement income to maintain your lifestyle. Even if you were diligent about saving during your working years, it’s likely that your investment portfolio has not yet fully recovered from the recession, and returns are still lower than you expected them to be. How do you ensure that your nest egg is big enough to meet ongoing expenses?
Significant Future Income Increases Are Unlikely
Your future income will be a combination of Social Security benefits and the systematic liquidation and withdrawal of your retirement assets over the remaining years of your life. At age 65, you can expect to live, on average, another 19.1 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If you are genetically gifted, however, you may live to 100 or longer – the number of centenarians in the U.S. rose to 53,345 in 2010, a 65.8% increase from 1980.
Your initial retirement calculations were probably based upon an annual withdrawal rate of 4% of asset value, a figure most financial planners had generally agreed would provide a stable income for 30 years. Nowadays, however, that percentage is considered by some to be too liberal. Recent studies have suggested that in the current economic environment, withdrawing income at a 4% rate could increase the risk of depleting your assets during your lifetime. Since the level of your future income is uncertain and may be lower than originally anticipated, it would be prudent to reduce your living expenses where possible so that less income is needed to provide the same quality retirement for your remaining years, however long that may be.
“Let your conversation be without malice or envy, for it is a sign of a tractable and commendable nature: and in all causes of passion admit reason to govern,” thus proclaimed George Washington in his “Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation,” written sometime before the age of 16. In the heated, often rancorous season of political contest, we Americans often forget that our fellow citizens are more similar to each other than dissimilar, our goals and ambitions more analogous than antagonistic. As a consequence, our public and private discourse has become intensely personal, focused on differences rather than consonance, so that friend, family, and work relationships are frequently in peril.
Civility, to most people, is simply being polite, reasonable, and exhibiting respectful behavior. When people disagree, discussion becomes personal attacks; instances of rudeness for other people are common in grocery stores, city streets, even between neighbors. According to the 2013 Civility in America: A Nationwide Survey, most Americans believe that this era of incivility is “harmful to our country’s future,” and is likely to erode further in the future.
The findings include:
– 95% of Americans believe we have a civility problem in America
– 81% think uncivil behavior is leading to an increase in violence
– 80% agree that the level of civility will not improve until our government leaders act more civilly
– 71% believe civility is worse compared to a few years ago
– 70% think that incivility has risen to crisis levels
The same survey indicates that one of three workers believe their workplace is uncivil, leading to job dissatisfaction, burnout and stress, and workplace aggression as evidenced by the number of employees and ex-employees who return to their jobs to exact revenge and commit mass murders. It is also expensive, slowing production, limiting employee participation in company projects, and higher turnover with one of four of employees who quit their jobs attributing it to incivility in the workplace.
Dr. Gary Namie, psychologist and co-founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute, notes that lack of civility and bullying go hand-in-hand, asking, “How in the world can we stop bullying in schools, in the workplace, in politics, when it is so close to our national character right now?”