“Ghostbusters is not a movie about ghosts,” said Eric Ries on a recent visit to The Rotman School of Management in Toronto. “It’s a movie about entrepreneurship.”

Ries, famous for his blog StartupLessonsLearned.com and his book The Lean Startup, describes the movie’s pivotal scene. “They’re literally down to their last dollar,” he says, “and then a rich customer comes to the door, just in time.”

In real life, though, that customer rarely comes along. Rather, it’s the stuff of entrepreneurship fantasy that Hollywood has created: good ideas always succeed, as long as you wait it out.

The Ghostbusters value proposition: “The Ghostbusters are an on-call crisis response team who provide businesses in Manhattan an effective and discreet method of ridding their properties of paranormal activity.”

Many Hollywood movies are based on the Horatio Alger myth that through persistence and hard work, you can achieve unlimited success. The reality is sometimes much different. “Why would anyone want to be an entrepreneur?” asks Ries. “Most businesses fail, which is really embarrassing.”

The other thing that drives Ries crazy is the montage in the middle of entrepreneur movies, complete with whiteboards, stacks of cash and founders surrounded by pizza boxes. “All the hard stuff happens in the montage,” says Ries. “And they gloss over it. It makes success seem inevitable.”

A recent study by the Babson Entrepreneur Experience Lab included surveys of over 250 entrepreneurs and revealed how deeply ingrained the misconceptions of entrepreneurship are.

“The dominant entrepreneurship narrative is still the lone individual with the brilliant idea who, against tremendous odds, makes it big; the home-run at the bottom of the ninth,” says the report. “The founder myth focuses on and bestows celebrity status on a relatively small set of highly successful, rich, predominantly male, technology-focused entrepreneurs.”

The reality is that an entrepreneur is just a person who is a “creator of new things,” someone you can find working for a large Fortune 500 company or opening a donut shop.

Ventures don’t always make money, let alone achieve “home-run” status or create the “next Google.” In fact, entrepreneurs experience a higher rate of failure than people in other types of business, which new entrepreneurs sometimes find shocking.

So you’ve been warned: believe the myths of Hollywood at your peril!

Some classic movies about entrepreneurs:

The Social Network: Makes entrepreneurship seem lonely and sexy at the same time.

Risky Business: In this movie, Tom Cruise sees a problem and provides a timely (if not exactly legal) solution.

Secret of My Success: All you have to do to take over a company is put on a suit and start working out of an empty executive office on the top floor.

Citizen Kane: The classic story of the successful media mogul, Charles Foster Kane (a.k.a. William Randolph Hearst).

Jerry McGuire: What would you yell into a phone if it meant you could secure a high-profile client?

Have your own favorite entrepreneurship movie? Add it below in the comments section:

 

 

Joseph Wilson

Joseph was an education advisor at MaRS Discovery District. He writes on topics of science, culture and city issues for NOW Magazine, the Globe and Mail, Spacing and Yonge Street. He is the Executive Director of the Treehouse Group, dedicated to fostering innovation by hosting cross-disciplinary events. See more…