The Age of Metapreneurship: Author Interview    

Interview with CJ Cornell, Author of The Age of Metapreneurship - A Journey into the Future of Entrepreneurship

The Age of Metapreneurship is definitely not your typical "How to start a business book," or success book. What kind of a book is it?

Well, it is indeed a book on entrepreneurship, but it takes you on a journey, from the recent past into the future, using stories and examples, instead of checklists and recipes.  During this journey, you begin to understand how much entrepreneurship has changed, and how most of the how-to books are outdated.

You know, we think of entrepreneurs as visionaries, but most of the time they are so immersed in the details that they miss the big problems and miss the bigger picture.  Sometimes they are so focused and busy, they don't notice when a series of small changes alters the whole landscape. Before they realize it, the entire terrain has changed and they're lost.

And is this what is happening with entrepreneurship? 

Yes. The terrain changed. How to be an entrepreneur changed. Not just because .the tools and techniques have changed, but because people have changed - customers, employees, partners, everyone - our behavior and expectations are different. We share, we collaborate. Customers have new expectations for the companies they buy from - they want more just a quality product at a good price.

So the terrain changed so much that the lessons of the past no longer apply. This is one of the most important lessons of the book.

So entrepreneurs are handicapped by those old lessons.

Definitely. And most won't realize the terrain is different, until it's too late . 

Think about it. When traveling on new terrain, experience can be a liability. It's like being an expert motorcycle rider in the middle of the Sahara. The harder you try, the more you spin your wheels and drive in circles. You're moving, but not making any progress towards your destination. Eventually you will be hopelessly stranded, and it will be too late to save you. For experienced entrepreneurs, the skills and strategies that made you successful before, will fail you, on this new terrain.

The book is filled with wonderful little stories and analogies - one that I like is where you talk about the Cargo Cults of Entrepreneurship.

Ah, cargo cults - the futility of trying to duplicate the success you've seen from afar. Yeah, a lot of regional organizations designed to help entrepreneurs, are prone to this syndrome.  But it's not surprising. The majority of new jobs and economic growth come from new entrepreneurial companies - particularly high-growth companies - like the ones we see from Silicon Valley. Unfortunately a lot of regions try to recreate this success, and it backfires - just like those remote-island cargo cults and their prayer rituals - they're hoping for riches to drop from the sky.

And leads to The Cobra Effect - when the solution to a problem actually makes the problem worse.  So a lot of organizations - from government programs, universities, to incubators and accelerators - designed to help entrepreneurs often have the opposite effect.  Too ofte they are teaching based on the lessons of the past, and using older, ineffective tools.

So entrepreneurs are using the wrong tools? 

Not exactly. Entrepreneurs are too smart for that.  It's easy to know if you’re using the wrong tool for the job, or using a broken tool, and the you simply don't use it. It's a lot harder when you have a tool used to work, but is gradually becoming less effective - like using a knife that gets duller and duller.  

For entrepreneurship the more a tool is used, the less effective it becomes. Eventually, it loses all advantage and becomes a liability.  And it's not just the tools. It's the techniques too.  Entrepreneurs are surrounded by aging advice and advisors - who are ... teaching the lessons of the past.  

So entrepreneurship has changed the old rules don't work anymore - is this the most important message?

Of the first part of the book, yes.  Subtly, the world changed. Most new entrepreneurs are learning from techniques and advice that were effective 5 or 10 years ago. Using them today will makes them more like struggling amateurs.  In fact, the more experienced you are, the worse it can get.

For experts in entrepreneurship, the skills and strategies that made you successful will fail you in this new age of entrepreneurship. It's like being a checkers champion and sitting down at a tournament realizing everyone is now playing chess. All those strategy books on checkers no longer apply.

Are there new rules?

Not exactly. Rules are like receipes - meant to help beginners. But if you don't really know how to cook, you'll be lost if the ingredients change, or if you need to improvise and cook for 20 people instead of 4 people. 

Instead you need strategies, big strategies - and then you can make up your own rules.  It's like having a map and directions - but if the terrain changes then directions are useless. What you really need is a compass, and a way to step back and see the new terrain.

So what is this new terrain like?  How does the modern entrepreneur succeed?

First is recognizing how modern entrepreneurship is no longer just about solving a problem for a customer and creating an innovative product. Now, navigating the new terrain means being able to manage the network effects that can scale your business quickly (and can destroy it quickly ).

Building a network, sharing, participating, contributing to the network, are all core aspects of entrepreneurship now. These skills are not optional. And then there's getting used to some big terrain changes.
So, for instance, one staple of business school wisdom - Scarcity. It used to make things valuable, and also provided a competitive advantage.  But today we live in an age of abundance, and nothing is really scarce anymore. We expect so much - particularly content and services -  to be cheap and free. 

But Abundance isn't merely "more stuff." Abundance complicates. Abundance has consequences. Abundance spawns new opportunities. In The Age of Metapreneurship, the best entrepreneurs know how to create value from all this abundance.  They know that “every abundance creates a new scarcity.” For instance, an abundance of content creates a scarcity of time (for consumers).   Also an abundance of people on the network equals a crowd ...

The books talks about Crowds quite a bit - including crowdsourcing and crowdfunding.

Yes. Crowds change everything - crowdsourcing, crowdfunding and collective intelligence. Leveraging the crowd is the new talent of this era.  Today, the crowd is your advisor, your designer, your investor, customer, vendor and employee - and any combination.  For the traditional entrepreneur this is very confusing, but for the modern Metapreneur. It's the "new normal."

Right, you talk about "Blurred Lines" ... 

The clearly defined roles and relationships: employees, customers, vendors, companies, founders - are no longer clear. The lines between them are blurred.  Our customers are our collaborators, even our investors. And this is causing everyone to behave differently: New customers, new employees, new companies. Entrepreneurs who expect the old behaviors will fail. Those who can adapt to the new norms, will thrive and succeed,

So who is this new kind of entrepreneur, the Metapreneur?

Being a Metapreneur is thriving as a modern entrepreneur. It means that they are building something much more than just their own business.  And it means that they are connected, collaborative. They share, they contribute, and they participate.

The Metapreneur is the opposite of the lone achiever. Success is no longer about being a rock star; it’s about playing jazz in an ensemble.

Younger entrepreneurs generally make the transition because they already live connected, collaborative live.  It's the experienced entrepreneur -- who has the most difficulty.

You call then Entrepreneurship's Greatest Generation 

A lot of former superstars flounder and fail when they find themselves on this new terrain. It's not surprising though - even superstar athlete Michael Jordan was a below-average amateur when he stepped off the basketball court and onto a baseball diamond.

The most experienced players are those who stumble the most. Their value and power is based on hierarchy, exclusive knowledge and relationships.  And in The Age of Metapreneurship, heretical power is becoming less relevant, and being replaced by network-centric power. Instead of being on top of the hierarchy, new power comes from being at the center of networks.  And this is a mind-shift for most seasoned operators. 

Who should read this book?

Well, the book is for everyone!  Not just entrepreneurs. Remember, we're all part of the system now. We're not just customers - we collaborate and tell companies how to build the products, and we help market them. 

But the people who will appreciate the book the most are those who *thought* they were experts in entrepreneurship: Serial entrepreneurs, experienced entrepreneurs. Advisor, mentors.  Also working entrepreneurs looking to make sure they take a step back and do things right. It will help them reinvent themselves in the form of a modern entrepreneur: A Metapreneur.

How did your experience help you 

Well, I've been through the journey more than once. I started as a software engineer, founded or co-founded 8 companies - attracted $250 funding and generated $ 3 Billion in revenues.  After 25 years, I had intensive experience at being an entrepreneur, it should have been getting easier - but it was getting harder.

Later, as a venture capitalist, angel, mentor, advisor and entrepreneurship professor, I was able to work with and study hundreds and hundreds of startups and entrepreneurs - and pattern was becoming clear I noticed a lot of the conventional techniques that were being taught, just weren't working anymore.

But at the same time i was inspired by many of the newer founders who were natives to the new terrain - so they were able to naturally leverage the network, the crowds, and the new behaviors.

You're an author, educator, advisor, speaker, entrepreneur. What else are you working on? What's next?

I have another book getting ready for release later this summer, called The Startup Brain Trust. It's all about advisors, mentors and entrepreneurs. And I still do a lot of speaking, teaching, consulting and advising startup companies. 

So you're always working?
Oh lord no.  I'm pretty lazy, and have procrastination down to a science.  I exercise and run half marathons with my wife,  and spend time renovating different parts of our house over and over again.  I've learned that you can accomplish anything if you are curious enough, and are willing to put in enough energy into multitasking, procrastination and play.

How can readers find out more, and keep tabs on what you're doing?

Oh that's easy. You can follow me on twitter @cjcornell, or on amazon at

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