Escaping the Entrepreneurial Seizure: Interview with Michael Gerber (Plus: Tim Speaking)


Michael Gerber, the E-Myth evangelist.

Michael Gerber’s name should sound familiar.

I recommend his bestseller, The E-Myth Revisited, as the must-read classic on automation. It brief, it discusses how to create scalable businesses that are based on rules and not outstanding employees; and how to become an owner instead of constant micromanager.

Michael also had a enormous influence on me as a first-time writer. His words to me were simple during our first lunch:

“If you’re going to write a book, write a f*ing book.”

Don’t hedge and don’t think small. I didn’t hold back material for a sequel, I aimed for the top of the top, and I credit Michael’s advice as, in part, responsible for the subsequent success of the 4HWW. It was that recalibration of ambition that made it all possible.

His latest book, Awakening the Entrepreneur Within, examines how to recalibrate the scale of objectives and other facets of the core entrepreneurial experience, which we recently sat down to discuss…

1. Michael, having counseled more than 50,000 post-corporate entrepreneurs caught in what you call the “entrepreneurial seizure,” can you explain this phenomenon and how to avoid it?

The “entrepreneurial seizure” lies at the heart of most failures in judgment when someone decides to leave his or her job to go out on their own.

The excitement of independence associated with getting rid of the boss is almost always fueled by a flawed understanding of what being on your own means. Most small businesses are started by technicians rather than by true entrepreneurs.

The technician believes in the fatal assumption that because he or she knows how to do the work — whether graphic design, engineering, cooking a great dinner, repairing an automobile, snow boarding, or otherwise — they can turn that capability into a business that frees them from the boss. The graphic designer creates a graphic design business. The technologist creates a technology-based business. The cook creates a restaurant. The mechanic creates an auto repair business. The snow boarder creates a snow boarding business.

But instead of freeing themselves from the boss, they have become their own boss, and they’re now — with absolutely no understanding about how it happened — working for a lunatic and doing what they know how to do but in greater volume than before.

True entrepreneurs make the transition from working for someone else to working on their own much differently. Entrepreneurs invent businesses that work without them. Technicians create businesses that work because of them. The entrepreneur is liberated from what I call the “tyranny of routine,” and the technician becomes a slave to it. In the entrepreneur’s case, the business works. In the technician’s case, the technician works. And that’s why most of the 500,000 new businesses that are started every month in the U.S.A. will fail. According to a recent study done by the Kauffman Foundation, 81% of all businesses in the US employ no people besides the owner. They’re sole proprietorships. True entrepreneurs are never sole proprietors.

2. Much of the model you laid out in The E-Myth Revisited has to do with the importance of systems in building a scalable business. What is the shape of the process and the practical steps for business development in your model?

As I’ve said before, and as AT&T has been quoted: the system is the solution.

The system I’m talking about is the core operating system of your business. It comprises three essential functions that must work in a completely integrated way. These are lead generation, lead conversion and client fulfillment. Whether the business is McDonalds or Starbucks, FedEx or Dell Computer, these three systems are critical to the success of that company. Building these systems then is the process we teach at E-Myth. They are really arranged in a very simple three-step approach. Step one: intentional dreaming (the dream, the vision, the purpose and the mission). Step two: intentional organization (conceiving, building and perfecting the automated client fulfillment systems that comprise the operating reality of the company). Step three: intentional growth (conceiving, building and perfecting the lead generation and lead conversion operating systems of the company). Every business under the sun is conceived, built and perfected in identically the same way, using identically the same processes.

3. Has the Internet really fundamentally changed the game for small business?

The internet era has, of course, changed the game for small business, but not as dramatically as most would profess.

After all is said and done, the internet is simply a medium through which the business of business is transacted, a conduit through which one can communicate and deliver the results one has set out to deliver. As many or more companies fail on the internet as anywhere else, and many more businesses (especially sole proprietors) stumble along without every making an impact on anyone, and most without selling anything to anyone.

In short, if an internet business fails to follow the three-step development process I just outlined, it will fail just like any other business will. So, I must say frankly that I am not a great believer in the internet as the be all and end all of business opportunity that others see it to be. Maybe I’m simply too old, but I think not. In short, I think that, given my experience of internet entrepreneurs as being very much the same as any other types of entrepreneurs, if they are absent the entrepreneurial fundamentals that are absolutely essential for any new company to grow, the result will be the same: lack of direction, lack of intention, lack of execution, diminished results.

4. In your new book you write–very counter-intuitively to most–that the reason most small businesses fail is not that they dream too big, but that they dream too small to create a truly thriving enterprise. Can you elaborate?

By “dreaming big” I mean conceptualizing a result greater than anything you have ever experienced. When I started my first company, now E-Myth Worldwide, I had absolutely no business experience. All I had was an idea bigger than life itself. My idea, my dream, was to transform small business worldwide.

That dream was the energizer for everything that was to follow. That dream for me was the realization of a picture I had formed in my mind of the typical small business I walked into every day, where the owner lived for sweat equity, worked 18-hour days, and had no idea that his or her life could be any different than the overwhelming life he experienced, and that all of his or her peers experienced in the day-to-day hell of doing it, doing it, and doing it some more. I just knew, don’t ask me how, it didn’t have to be that way.

Then I saw McDonalds and the impression I walked away with was huge. I suddenly realized exactly how the tragic condition of small business could be turned on its ear. All I had to do was to McDonald-ize every small business by teaching the owner how to think like Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds, did. That led to the invention of E-Myth worldwide.

That’s what I mean when I say dream big. Dream about great results. Dream about a world that works, rather than one that doesn’t. Think of one thing you wish to transform and than go to work ON it, rather than IN it, which quickly became my E-Myth mantra. The result of that will be something bigger than you ever imagined. Dreaming small is not dreaming at all. Dreaming small, which is what most small business owners do, is really the act of shrinking yourself to live a life that you can imagine because it fits your perception of what you know and are able to do. There is no imagination in that. And a life without imagination is already dead. In my new book, I am focused on awakening the soul of my reader to enable him or her to discover the entrepreneur within. And, once discovered, to put his or her imagination to work to invent a new life beyond anything he or she has ever done before. Just like I have done. Just like you have done, Tim. Just like every entrepreneur does.

5. It’s interesting to me that in your view of a truly awakened entrepreneur, they would not ever buy in to a franchise. I think people often confuse designing a scalable business that could be franchised with become a franchisee. Two fundamentally different objectives, right?

Right. The truly awakening entrepreneur wouldn’t buy a franchise. Why would they? The franchise is someone else’s dream. Not the entrepreneur’s. The entrepreneur is the one who invents a franchise company, not the one who buys a franchise. If the entrepreneur were to buy the franchise, he would immediately set about the task of taking it apart and turning it into something else. And, in the process, he would destroy the franchise.

No, the one who buys a franchise is either the technician – he buys a system that works and then he works it – or a manager – he buys a system that works and than manages it. And that’s the way it ought to be.

6. My readers are interested in the intersection of business and lifestyle design. Does an “awakened entrepreneur” seek some form of balance, or is it something else? I’m a big proponent of work-life “separation” vs. balance, as you know.

An awakened entrepreneur isn’t interested in balance of the typical sense. An awakening entrepreneur is passionate about creating. Creating is, by its very nature, unbalanced. But, to the creator, it doesn’t at all feel that way. It feels like the optimal flow of life. Creating is a power all its own. It takes you where it wants to take you, and the creator simply follows where it takes him.

Just like joy. Joy is not balanced either. Joy is explosive, it is the intense experience of life’s purpose all happening at once. So, if you want balance, don’t become Walt Disney. Don’t become Michael Dell. Don’t become anyone who seeks the unknown. Balance is a figment of our known reality. Balance has never been something that people who are disinterested in control ever pursue. The only people who crave balance are people who are desperately out of balance. When you’re living the creative life, you achieve a natural balance all its own.

7. After 30 years of working with entrepreneurs, do you see a fundamental change in entrepreneurship today? If so, what is different now and why?

Actually, no. I don’t see a fundamental difference between the entrepreneurs of 30 years ago and the entrepreneurs I meet today. Other than this: today’s entrepreneur is more likely to be interested in meaning rather than money. Not that he’s not interested in money; he obviously is. But money that comes with the absence of meaning is too big a price to pay for the new entrepreneur I’m engaging today.

Understand, I’m not saying that everyone I meet today has the question of meaning in mind. But, when I begin the conversation about meaning, more people I meet today are interested in having the conversation than ever before. So, there’s something going on today in the world of the entrepreneur. And that’s why I call it “the age of the new entrepreneur.” Something interesting is beginning to wake up, not only in the people I’m talking to, but in me as well.


Odds and Ends: Tim Upcoming Speaking and Two Favors

I don’t do much speaking, just as I’ve never done any formal book tours or signings, but there are two coming up soon:

E-Tech in San Diego, CA – I’ve giving the closing keynote on March 6th
SXSW in Austin, TX – I’m speaking at the following from March 7-11:

-Fri. 3:30pm “How to Rawk SXSW: The Basics”
-Sat. 3:30pm “The Art of Speed: Conversations with Monster Makers”
-Sat. 5pm Book Signing (Day Stage Cafe, Level 4)


1. I’m putting together a group of Lifestyle Design 101 posts. Which 3-5 posts on this blog would you recommend for first-time visitors who want to learn some basics?

2. What questions would you ask the panelists on the “Art of Speed” panel? Please put in your top 2 or 3 in the comments and I’ll try and make them happen. Please keep them relevant! (i.e. no “how does a sonic boom happen?”)

Speaking to Google management at an offsite in Marina del Rey

Posted on: February 27, 2008.

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65 comments on “Escaping the Entrepreneurial Seizure: Interview with Michael Gerber (Plus: Tim Speaking)

  1. Fascinating that the main difference Michael Gerber sees over 30 year is that today’s entrepreneur is more likely to be interested in meaning rather than money.

    This seems to be a growing trend in the corporate world, where talent is less interested “sin” industries and more interested in companies that contribute.

    Favorite post recently:
    How to Stop Checking E-mail on the Evenings and Weekends



  2. In response to the question Malcolm posted ‘3. What are good ways to speed learn?’ I have found the following helpful in my consulting years:
    1) Ask the ‘experts’ or owners of the business in the industry selling to or in what you are interested in, what trade publications they read (they usually have a stack of magazines and newspapers in the corner they have not gotten to). Most of the time the magazines are free to those in the industry – those who might buy their advertisers products.

    2) Look at similar companies in other markets talk to them.

    3) Meet ‘experts’ at Chamber of Commerce, and other networking events, including industry events.

    4) Attend the industry tradeshows. I have been able to typically be more informed then over half the industry after a few days of intense trade show work. This includes:
    – Attending as many sessions as you can.
    – Listening in on conversations of others in show floor booths (and asking questions from their questions),
    – Reading as much of the trade show literature as possible,
    – Asking LOTS of questions to anyone,
    – Committing to have drinks with at least one person from the show (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and 3 rounds of drinks),
    – Start conversation with those you take breaks with at the show floor break tables.
    – Research as much in and industry sites at night on the web.

    5) Spend a long night in Wikipedia – a lot of effort has been put into editing down to the shortest possible with the highest signal to noise ratio.

    6) Go to the regional business library (ask your local library who has the best research department) – they are particularly adept at finding that great 1st pass of information.

    I am sure there are better methods leveraging outsourcing and asking questions on the Internet, but I am still learning what resources actually work. More feedback please.

    For Carl asking how to get up to speed – I would suggest reading (or better yet listening to) “SPIN Selling” By Neil Rackham – it maps the process of asking questions into a system. Don’t get real hung up on the science and statistics up front except to get 2 points:
    1) The method is based on actual tested results rather then someones personal style.
    2) It is more applicable to relationship selling or longer term sales. But, the underlying concepts have great use in managing team, vendors, building referrals and friends in life. Then look over the Fieldbook.

    I forced all my sales team to read it. Micheal Gerber’s E-Myth Revisited (read don’t listen as a 1st pass) is the best ‘how to do business’ book I have found for the situation you describe (again I forced all new staff to read it before their 1st day when we discussed it, and their role in our business).

    In response to #26 Never the Same River Twice Says: February 28th, 2008 at 12:28 pm – Concerning desiring a creative business rather then a (boring, repetitive) machine, My initial response was the same -I wanted to do/create something that did not exist before. Until I read closer and saw how Micheal addresses that issue (he was a creative himself). The creative is in perfecting and evolving the SYSTEM that generates the tasks-not in perfecting the mundane task itself.

    I don’t want to make pens everyday only to have 2 minutes to write the poetry. I don’t want to spend all day making the kayak only to have 5 minutes to be on the river. I don’t want to spend all morning making the paint to miss the sunrise. I think that is the biggest overlap of Tim and Micheal – the freedom is in building the system for the repetitive, then get rid of inane and be creative in your focus on improving the system.

    Until you get bored – then sell it, hand it off, or kill it. And take on a new project that inspires you to create a new system and more joy.


  3. Hi Tim,

    my recommendations for Lifestyle 101:

    * The Art of Letting Bad Things Happen;
    * Extreme Personal Outsourcing;
    * Robert Scoles interviews Tim Ferris (video).

    One favour pulees…
    – do you outsource book-keeping, and do you have any recommendation on the subject?

    Many thanks !



  4. Tim,
    just got done reading the 4HWW (and parts of it several times.) I jumped out a couple years ago and bought my dream biz that until recently, ran ME. I’ve been working on creating systems w/in the biz and have always known if i were REALLY GOOD, it would run without me…but not yet… and then you come along, with great resources to set up the missing pieces to my puzzle. A MILLION THANKS !!!

    PS I’m glad there is someone else who knows “If everyone thinks you’re crazy, you’re on the right track.” Ever listen to Stuart Wilde?


  5. Tim,

    I’ve meant to write for a long time to thank you for your book and your web site.

    Thought-provoking article. I was wondering what you thought of sites like Shopster that allow people to start up small businesses with little investment while they provide the website design, taking care of customer service and orders, and dropshipping. Is this close enough to what you encourage in your book? Have any of your readers had luck with a Shopster kind of business?

    I’m looking for having more than 2 minutes to write the poetry. Currently, I tutor full time, teach a couple of classes, and do freelance editorial work sporadically (that’s feast or famine–impossible to schedule consistently). I’m toying with the idea of starting a mostly self-running business outside writing that would take little nurturing from me and provide the steady ‘muse’.

    Thanks for any suggestions and/or comments.


  6. Entrepreneur: one who moves economic assets out of areas of low yield to areas of higher yield.

    Adventurer: one who moves non-economic assets out of areas of low excitement to areas of higher excitement.

    Some times you just have to get your asset out of town.

    Key observation by Deming: .people behave according to how they’re measured.

    How you measure yourself is the most important. Time and money are two good measures, but there are more.

    As for Speed, it’s relative.

    The slowest time I’ve ever spent was waiting to get enough information to figure things out.

    The fastest time was landing in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, fresh from Los Angeles, sort of on a dare. I went for a walk up the hill and fell through the ground cover into a bomb crater from WWII, landing on top of some 40 year old unexploded munitions.

    Speed is relative.


  7. I have been studying these to books for about a year now. The compliment each other some much. I love it how Tim brings the technicial to Michaels business sytem approach. May be a joint book coming soon? Thanks
    Tanner D


  8. I read the E-Myth about 8 years ago. The book was recommended to me by 3 different people within the same month – so – I usually take that as a sign that it is a must read for me. I’m glad I did – it literally changed my life – and my business immediately. The biggest thing was realizing to work ON my business and not IN it…like everyone else was doing. once I SAW the difference – the growth and my lifestyle took on a whole new direction. My income back then went from 90,000 to 360,000 the first year. That’s a HUGE increase. and I was not working IN IT – just the captain of my ship. That proved to have it’s challenges too – but it was still better then the other way – and my SYSTEMS were just not SOLID.
    I recently fell back into the TRAP of Status Quo – and for 3 years was the most miserable Manager? on earth. I knew it was WRONG for me – then I found Tim’s book – and it reminded me and got me BACK ON TRACK!!
    I have restructured my complete business again – Tim’s book is all dogeared, underlined, highlighted, notes, – i took it on SERIOUS.
    I fired all staff – outsourced everything, got (Ring Central to sound like a big company and allow me to GO MOBILE), put my goods into a fulfillment Center, sublet my leased facility, and more. My RENT? now goes towards a purchase of a penthouse with 75 feet of balcony wrapping around Las Vegas for me to work on my laptop and on the phone finalizing my SYSTEMS for the 4 hour work week. I plan to start booking adventure holidays now – FREEDOM – yes – this is what I started my business for – I remember!! Thank you Mr Gerber and thank you Tim Ferriss


  9. This is my first post on this blog, I just want to let you know I grew up using the internet and ppc engine back in 1999 almost 10 years ago. I got automated to the point I made very good money working zero hours per week, so I respect your ideas and what you say, I need to take it to the next level and learn many of the other activies you have. I believe in your concept, and I am going to teach time leverage as opposed to time management. The idea is very similar to yours, and I like to keep learning from you as well and your book which I have listened to the full version, it was great, I see we think a lot of like, many of your thoughts I have had over the last few years.


  10. Tim,

    Thank you for this great interview with Michael Gerber. You and Michael are my heroes when it comes to the issue of working smarter and not harder. Since meeting you at Joe’s Master Mind meeting in Phoenix last year, I have enjoyed the progress you are making in helping people see that things can be done in smarter more life affirming ways.

    Currently, there is a large growth of Baby Boomer Entrepreneurs who have elected to start businesses so they can stay active and alert rather than turning to conventional retirement. Many of them need the information you are providing.

    Shallie Bey
    Smarter Small Business Blog


  11. Hi Tim and fellow blog posters,

    Does anyone have specific information on how to automate a service business? Specifically a real estate brokerage of residential real estate. I have 5 agents currently.

    I struggle since real estate is very hands on; phone calls, personal meetings, emails. It’s really a people business.

    I love 4HWW and have started using the email tips and voicemail tips and that has help considerably.

    I’m just wondering if there’s anyone out there who has actually automated a service vs. a product based business. Or if you could direct to a good resource for this.

    Thank you.


  12. What a great interview. Nice information, I found your post really helpful . It helped me all the way in completing my assignment. I am also giving a reference link of your blog in my case study. Thanks for posting such informative content. Keep posting. Many thanks to the author…