Demystifying (mystifying?) small business

In BPEA, from Erik Hurst and Benjamin Wild Pugsley (pdf):

In this paper, we show that substantial differences exists among U.S. small businesses owners with respect to their ex-ante expectations of future performance, their ex-ante desire for future growth, and their initial motives for starting a business. Specifically, using new data that samples early stage entrepreneurs just prior to business start up, we show that few small businesses intend to bring a new idea to market. Instead, most intend to provide an existing service to an existing customer base. Further, using the same data, we find that most small businesses have little desire to grow big or to innovate in any observable way. We show that such behavior is consistent with the industry characteristics of the majority of small businesses, which are concentrated among skilled craftsmen, lawyers, real estate agents, doctors, small shopkeepers, and restaurateurs. Lastly, we show non pecuniary benefits (being one’s own boss, having flexibility of hours, etc.) play a first-order role in the business formation decision. We then discuss how our findings suggest that the importance of entrepreneurial talent, entrepreneurial luck, and financial frictions in explaining the firm size distribution may be overstated. We conclude by discussing the potential policy implications of our findings.


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