For entrepreneurs in America, it is the best of times, and it is the worst of times. It is “the age of the start-up,” and “American entrepreneurship is plummeting.” We are witnessing the Cambrian Explosion of apps and the mass extinction of apps. These are the glory days of risk, and we are taking fewer risks than ever. Tech valuations are soaring, and tech valuations are collapsing, and tech valuations are irrelevant. “A million users” has never been more attainable, and “a million users” has never been more meaningless. It is the spring of hope. It is the winter of despair.
The story of American entrepreneurship begins with a tale of two definitions of entrepreneur. When the press imagines the modern entrepreneur, our minds turn to tech—coders, hackers, hoodies, apps, Silicon Valley (the show), Silicon Valley (the valley). And it’s true: This sliver of entrepreneurship has grown, by all sorts of measures, for example by venture-capital funding:
But researchers studying national entrepreneurship trends aren’t caught staring at the tip of the iceberg. When they describe “declining business dynamism” (at Brookings) and steadily falling entrepreneurship (at BLS), they’re looking at the whole block of ice. And it’s melting.