How Entrepreneurs Serve the Public, Even without Turning a Profit
Failure is a misnomer if we are referring to the human action involved in an entrepreneurial pursuit. A commonly held, although misleading notion, is that entrepreneurs often fail within the first few years in the marketplace. Often, I wonder why and how it happens that entrepreneurs fail only after a few years in the market if they envisioned a profitable opportunity where none had existed beforehand and was visually unapparent to others. In a non-metaphorical sense, let us think about this: Entrepreneurs discover and invest in producing and distributing goods for those who demand them the most, thereby creating downward pressures on consumer prices via their purposive action.
With that said, why is it that at one point, the entrepreneur discovers effectual ways to satisfy consumer demands, and only within a few years is the entrepreneur reported to have failed? I do not buy this one bit, and I believe this belief is all wrong. Here is why: Firms measure “success” or "failure" via profit and loss. How do we measure the entrepreneur's contributions? One way we might measure the entrepreneurial function is by their compounding effect on future developments for human flourishing.
Instead of, as some might think, that entrepreneurs quit too soon, the reality is that entrepreneurs are often negatively affected by distortions and interventions in the marketplace. Not to mention, entrepreneurs are subject to the ongoing competition between existing and emerging institutions.
Does Entrepreneurial Success Rest on Personal Characteristics?
Some have said that entrepreneurs do not pick the right people for their team, their purposes are directed toward the wrong endeavor, and somehow, they lack commitment, persistence, and all the rest. I do not buy it. We must look at the effects of various institutional changes, distortions, and interventions, that play such a significant role in the assumed failure of nascent or incumbent entrepreneurs.
It boggles the mind how failure is attributed in many cases only to entrepreneurs' characteristics instead of the distortions and interventions placed in their way that obstruct the signals that are widely used to make decisions. Institutions like money and price act as entrepreneurial signals that reflect the known knowledge needed to produce and distribute consumer goods and services, particularly those economic goods valued most by market participants who consume and are satisfied by them.
Even the thought of an entrepreneur's failure is somehow self-inflicted is utter nonsense. Who would discover a profitable opportunity only to fail at it knowingly? Moreover, the same people who attribute failure to the entrepreneur have the antidote for fixing their failures.
The Public Service Provided by Entrepreneurs
It is no doubt true that sometimes entrepreneurial projects do not cut the mustard. However, according to Murray Rothbard, no one else knows their market and the workings of their market better than the entrepreneur. Therefore, there must be some external factors creating situations conducive to failure. As we have seen, commentary about entrepreneurial failures seems to face inward – failure is the entrepreneurs' fault – of course. I beg to differ. Firms may fail, but in at least one sense, entrepreneurs do not. Entrepreneurs shape our future only by adding to the entrepreneurial stock of knowledge. The steamboat, airplane, vehicles, ice manufacturing, light bulbs, umbrellas, pens, food and food processing, digital apps, just technology, in general, are all outcomes of an accumulation of knowledge from previous entrepreneurs that took place over decades and in some cases even centuries.