A new research study, outlined in a Business Insider article, is out that draws a straight-line correlation (implying/suggesting causation) between cat ownership and entrepreneurship. The science goes like this: if you have cats, you come into contact with their poop, which has a particular parasite in it (Toxoplasma Gondii) that can get into and affect the human brain. One of the effects appears to be an increase in entrepreneurial behavior, such as attending business school and starting their own business.
More to the point, among students tested for the Toxoplasmosis infection, those that tested positive were 1.4 times more likely to be a business major than those who weren’t infected. Among the business majors, students who tested positive were 1.7 times more likely to be focusing on management and entrepreneurship. When the test was performed on professionals who attended entrepreneur-focused events, those with Toxoplasmosis were 1.8 times more likely to have started a company.
In further support of this theory, the study also found that countries with a higher prevalence of the parasite that causes Toxoplasmosis had a lower proportion of people who cited “fear of failure” as the reason they were discouraged from starting a business. To put it differently, people who don’t fear failure are more likely to start business and those who fear failure are less likely to do so. Fear of failure was found to be negatively correlated with Toxoplasmosis, by which I mean, if you’re not an entrepreneur, you are probably out walking your dog and not being ordered around by your cat.
I think this is my favorite scientific study of the last 10 years, if not all time. First of all, wow. There are people who are studying whether cat poop leads to entrepreneurship. I am so sad I didn’t think of that. And if not me, who even thought of this hypothesis? I have two cats and I have had a billion conversations over the years with entrepreneurs. I don’t think cats have come up more than 1-2 times. Dogs, on the other hand, are pratically holding CSuite positions in companies and are often more likely to show up at the office than their human counterparts. In my 30 years as entrepreneur or venture capitalist hanging around the offices of entrepreneurs, I have seen exactly 1 cat in an actual startup office. Female venture-backed CEOs are a billion times more common than obvious cat ownership in Silicon Valley; I’m just sayin’.
Second of all, it is hilarious to me that the model for entrepreneurs should actually look more like Dr. Evil than Mark Zuckerberg, who is famous for having his dog, Beast, hanging around him. Bringing your cat to the office may be the new fleece vest when it comes to proving your Silicon Valley cred. There are going to be a lot of torn up conference room chairs in our Silicon Valley future, but maybe that should be a proxy for unicorn potential.
To amplify on this thought, we think of dogs as loving, loyal and obedient, which is exactly the kind of companion I would expect most entrepreneurs to want. Just like the people they hire for their team, they want people who get on the train and run with it and wave the mission flag. Cats, on the other hand, are generally thought of as obstinate, bossy, demanding and without any desire to follow orders. Cats don’t get on the train and wave the flag. They put their paw on the tracks to derail the train and eat the flag. And then they say, “were you talking to me?”. So, the idea that cats are a possible predicate condition to entrepreneurship is particularly funny, in my opinion.
Maybe it’s not the parasitic infection, but the cat owner’s aversion reaction to cat behavior that leads the entrepreneur to want to lead others! Fine, cat, boss me around at home, but when I get to the office and around a bunch of humans and their dogs, I’m in charge damnit! I may be at home kneeling on the ground cleaning your cat box, but at the office, I’m going to make the CFO walk my dog!
The Business Insider article that describes this research noted that Toxoplasmosis has also “linked higher rates of the infection to more economic prosperity and higher levels of neuroticism.” In other words, cleaning your cat’s litter box may make you rich and also more neurotic. Or maybe you are more neurotic because you have to clean the damn cat box. I have to admit I didn’t dig deep into the annals of cat poop causation, but I am absolutely dying here thinking about how this reinforces the entrepreneurial theory; the best entrepreneurs are definitely neurotic, perhaps by necessity, and if they are especially good entrepreneurs, they are also very fond of economic prosperity.
I am considering changing my cat Ruby’s name to “Exit Strategy”. Hey Exit Strategy – how many times have I told you to get off the counter!?! Truth be told, I actually have two cats (the other is Luna). I’m going to rename the other one as well; I’m thinking “Blockchain”. The dog will become their personal assistant in the inevitable reorganization.
Also, I think my next entrepreneurial endeavor is going to be CatAncestry.com. I’m going to sell aspiring entrepreneurs cats who have a lineage related to the cats of successful serial entrepreneurs. It’s going to be a cat marketplace called FaaS, felines as a service. Owners will pay by the pound of cat poop. I may be neurotic, but apparently I’ll also be rich.
Afterthought: I think the follow-up study needs to correlate cat type (Tabby, Bengal, Persian, Siamese, etc) with amount of venture funding received. Why not create some big data in a place it can really make a difference in the startup ecosystem?! Then someone can create a marketplace to match entrepreneurs to the right kind of cat poop to maximize capital strategy.