Hello, I’m an Infrapreneur [Too!]

Pipes (or tubes) labeled "The Internet"I’ve intended to write this post for almost exactly two years. How do I know that? Because two years ago Laura Tomasko published “Hello, I’m an Infrapreneur” on UnSectored. But let’s go back even before then first…

Ever since I started MRW Web Design in 2009—going full time in August 2010—I’ve struggled to define my job.

I bring in my own clients and don’t work on-site so I’m not what I think of as a traditional “freelancer” or “consultant.” With no employees, I don’t think of myself as a “small business owner,” and I chafe at a lot of the associations a certain United States political party has created with the term. That also rules out titles like “President” and “Principal.” I’m technically all of those things, but the connotations of each term feels wrong, and so I don’t think they’re useful when describing what I do.

Then there’s “entrepreneur.” I’ve never been thrilled with that either. My friend Jeff Raderstrong recently put all my unease to words in his own article, “I’m not an Entrepreneur:” ((Pardon the long quote, there was just too much good stuff I couldn’t cut.))

[“Entrepreneur”] reminds me of sport coats with jeans, whiteboards with primary-color diagrams strewn about. It brings up images of Silicon Valley—where I’ve never been—and the endless churn of innovation, profit, innovation, profit, innovation, profit. When I think “entrepreneur,” I think slick, hype, exclusivity, excess, greed.

[E]ntrepreneurship has become a lifestyle, rather then a means to an end. It’s now “cool” to be an entrepreneur. People are drawn to the entrepreneurial scene, and there are countless conferences on entrepreneurship and “innovation” to fill this desire. Search around the internet for just a few minutes and you’ll find too many blogs spewing advice on how to start your business and grow it—without care to the most important question an entrepreneur should ask: “Why create in the first place?”

Especially sitting here in Seattle, that rings true to me. Even the more-specific “Social Entrepreneur” triggers a lot of the same negative connotations, though it’s getting closer. I don’t run MRW Web Design in a profit-maximizing manner, and I’ve gone as far as adopting a mission statement for my business last year:

I strive to build thoughtful, high-quality, mission-driven websites in support of people and organizations that improve my local, national, and global community.

And that brings me to two years ago when I read this in “Hello, I’m an Infrapreneur”:

[Infrapreneurs] want to create change by developing and connecting systems, or strengthening the plumbing ((Ed. Note: When working with web infrastructure, this plumbing is technically referred to as “a series of tubes.”)) that makes it all work.

Unlike entrepreneurs or “intrapreneurs,” what gets me up in the morning and inspires me to do the work I do is the desire to build websites that allow organizations to do what they do more effectively.

  • I build websites to allow management by their owners in more advanced and efficient ways.
  • I build websites to improve communication between an organization and its stakeholders (community members, clients, funders, etc.).
  • I build websites to increase the visibility of the work an organization does so it’s more effective.

Websites are a key piece of infrastructure for any organization. The best sites increase an organization’s capacity to do more work and better work.

I’ve had two years since learning this term to reconsider, but it continues to feel right. I’ve searched and searched for the best way to label what I do, and, for now at least, (( “Infrapreneurship” is a relatively new concept and I hope I’m not misusing or coopting it.)) I think of myself as an infrapreneur.

Photo courtesy wheresmysocks on Flickr.

3 thoughts on “Hello, I’m an Infrapreneur [Too!]”

  1. Thanks for this Mark! I really appreciate this resonating with you–and I like how you specifically build out exactly how you see yourself participating in this. I struggle to see how exactly these concepts play out in people’s lives, so I greatly appreciate your examples. Websites are kind of the purest form of infrastructure in our digital world, they help connect people’s missions to individuals and vice versa.

    Rock on!

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post, @jraderstrong! I’m with you, and I think it’s important that those of us “in the trenches” step back every once in a while and engage on this big cross-sector economic and social issues.

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