In case you haven’t been paying attention over the past decade or so, American entrepreneurship is in trouble. Dead, some may even say. And the numbers seem to back that notion up. Over the past decade or so specifically, more companies have been driven out of the economy than are being born. That’s a recipe for disaster, if it’s allowed to continue on.
There are many reasons why startups and small businesses are struggling to survive, but as more and more fail, it dissuades other would-be entrepreneurs from jumping into the fold. Entrepreneurs innovate. They create firms that create jobs, and create new and exciting technologies, services, and products. We need them. And the way things are going, we’ll be in trouble if the trend we’re seeing in the graph below, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, isn’t somehow reversed.
With a clear and present problem upon us, many people are focusing on developing a new type of economy — one that is a sort of hybrid of the traditional American economy, fused with elements from the worlds of freelancers and contractors. And Barnaby Lashbrooke, CEO of the UK-based firm Time Etc., has set his sights on this very issue.
Lashbrooke started Time Etc. as a platform for people who are looking for work to find a potential fit with companies or individuals who need help. Essentially, it’s a platform for finding virtual assistants — a sort of freelance/contractor role, in which workers can take care of menial tasks for those who need them completed. Employers get the benefit of not having to hire someone full-time, and people who want to work virtually, for whatever reason, can do just that.
“Something that really struck me,” Lashbrooke told The Cheat Sheet, “was how hard it had been to grow a business on my own,” referring to his first startup, which he sold just prior to the start of the Great Recession.
“I was frequently in a position where I really needed some help, or some skills, or some experience or expertise that I didn’t have. And being a small business owner, I couldn’t just go out and hire people with the skills or expertise that I needed. They were too expensive.”
That very issue — needing additional help, but not being able to afford it from a full-time employee — is how the idea behind Time Etc. was conceived. Lashbrooke set out to create the platform that allows for freelancers, or anyone with desirable skills, to act as mini-entrepreneurs, in a sense. For employers, it’s a marketplace for talent.
And in this way, by utilizing a market-based system for individual talents and skills, Lashbrooke sees a resurgence in entrepreneurship taking place.
“When I saw the stats about the decline of entrepreneurship in America,” Lashbrooke says, “that doesn’t really factor in the army of people out there who are freelancing, and sort of running their ‘mini-businesses’. But it’s exactly what we’ve seen. Over the past, say, five years, we’ve seen a huge increase in the volume of people who want to work for themselves, but don’t quite go so far as to starting an organization or corporation.”
One reason for that? Starting a business in the U.S. is a rather difficult, expensive, and tedious process. A more streamlined system, Lashbrooke says, would likely help American policymakers boost entrepreneurship stats.
While there are many other platforms out there that are similar in design and goals, Time Etc. differentiates itself by pairing skilled assistants with employers on a long-term basis — not just for individual tasks or projects. This way, a relationship can be built, and workers have a bit more job security than they get from jobs on other platforms.
It’s different, for sure, but running small, entrepreneurial ‘mini-businesses’ on platforms like Time Etc. may just be the future of American entrepreneurship. Considering what small business owners and entrepreneurs are up against — giant companies with seemingly endless capital, tons of red tape and regulatory hurdles, and huge upfront costs — Lashbrooke’s platform could be attractive to those looking to bridge the gap between freelancing and full-time work.
And with many new economic issues coming up on the horizon, those with the skills and drive to pursue their entrepreneurial calling may want to strike while the iron is hot, and start forming relationships with clients and employers.
American entrepreneurship isn’t dying. It’s merely taking on another form.
Follow Sam on Twitter @SliceOfGinger