Out of curiosity, I often ask aspiring entrepreneurs who come to me for help about what drives them to take on the workload and risk of a new startup.
The most common answers I get are that they are driven by the opportunity to be their own boss, make a lot of money, and maybe fulfill a long-held lifetime dream to do something they really enjoy, rather than just a more mundane job.
While these are quite reasonable, I find that the real superstars in the entrepreneurial world today, such as Bill Gates and Elon Musk, started with even bigger aspirations, including moving computer technology into every home, and establishing a human outpost on another planet. Thus I'm convinced that the size of scope of your initial drivers is a key factor in your ultimate success.
Of course, drivers have to be backed up by some realities, like necessary resources, adequate skills, relentless determination, and a market of people interested in supporting your dream. Yet I'm convinced these realities alone won't make your dream happen.
I ask every entrepreneur to first take a hard look inside for one or more of the following key intrinsic drivers, before they start.
1. Satisfy a driving need to be in control of your life.
I hear this one a lot, but find it elusive. Some people ache to be in control, but find it hard to make a decision, or venture into a risky unknown. Many entrepreneurs I know conclude they can never be in control, because of the constant and unpredictable need to satisfy investors, vendors, and customers.
Great entrepreneurs are willing and anxious to tackle these control challenges, and get real satisfaction from their acceptance of the "buck-stops-here" position of a business owner. The result is a higher probability of success, and the true entrepreneur lifestyle.
2. Desire to make the world a better place.
In my experience, entrepreneurs with an overwhelming desire to save the environment, or feed the hungry, have a huge head start in building a business. In today's parlance, this is called focusing on a higher purpose, above making a profit. Investors, as well as customers, pay a premium for this approach.
An example of an entrepreneur who pioneered the success of this strategy many years ago was Yvon Chouinard, when he founded Patagonia. His team has won big by putting their "purpose" of saving the environment first, and doing everything else right for profits.
3. Satisfy the thirst for personal accomplishment.
There are no challenges in life as hard, yet satisfying, as the ones you set for yourself. Unfortunately, many of us are driven primarily by others, including parents, spouses, investors, and bosses. If you are starting a business to satisfy someone else, the job gets harder, with a high probability of failure.
In an old interview, before his success was evident, Elon Musk admitted that what excited him most about being an entrepreneur was that it was like a series of poker games where he could measure his accomplishments by how many chips he could carry.
4. Need to prove to the world that your idea is real.
I was lucky enough to know Bill Gates in the early days of personal computers, when most people thought computers had no place outside of business. I'm certain he had no idea of the personal fortune that he would accrue in pushing his vision, but was driven by a need to prove the PC's value to the rest of us.
5. Intent on helping others to help themselves.
Facilitating others in achieving their goals can be a powerful driver for any entrepreneur. This is the genesis of all "customer-centric" thinking and marketing. If you focus on how your solution brings value to your customers, rather than just profit to you, you will have satisfied the basic equation of every business.
6. Develop camaraderie with people you respect.
Most people derive a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment from developing relationships with people they trust and admire. Successful entrepreneurs, with proven solutions and large followings, find great personal returns from their ability to build mutual friendships with people they admire.
My intent here is only to get you to really think about why you want to tackle a startup. Don't fool yourself into believing that the entrepreneur lifestyle is an easy one, or a get-rich-quick approach.
The people around you, including your team, investors, and customers, will see through this immediately, and they will make your job even harder. We know your happiness and ours are related.