Since this is supposed to be the generation of the entrepreneur, there's no shortage of advice on how or why you should or shouldn't start a company. And therein lies the rub. The vast majority of it is spectacularly bad advice.
I've spent my entire career working with hundreds of founders, venture capitalists, and start-ups that grew into big public companies. And contrary to what you might read elsewhere, there are loads of great reasons to start a company. Here's why real entrepreneurs do it.
1. To develop a product they wanted but couldn't find. Some people make great focus groups of one. If there's something they want but can't get, they build it. Sometimes they just think it's cool and, lo and behold, they're not the only ones. That's how Facebook got started, more or less.
2. They want to make a name for themselves. Whether it's an ego trip to get attention or a belief that they're special, self-importance--whether it's delusional or not-- can be remarkably compelling. And sometimes it has a funny way of becoming self-fulfilling. Steve Jobs thought he was special. Sure enough, he was.
3. To build a better company. Some folks get out in the real world and find it isn't for them. So they dump their real job and try doing it their own way. I was just reading about how Atari founder Nolan Bushnell changed the culture in Silicon Valley by building the first meritocracy without all sorts of rules and processes. I've known a successful founder or two that started there.
4. To be part of a great team. It usually happens at work: two or three people get to know each other and decide they'd make a great team. One comes up with an idea and the others say why not, let's do it. Happens all the time in the high-tech industry.
5. They came up with a real breakthrough. If you come up with a real breakthrough idea, concept, or invention, you almost have to demonstrate that it works to get any value out of it. At that point, why not just take it to market? Makes sense, doesn't it?
6. To prove a vision. Some people truly are visionaries who foresee a need or a coming change that others don't. And once it takes hold of them, they're hooked, addicted. So they have to either prove or disprove it, if not just to exercise themselves of this all-consuming passion. And sometimes, they were right.
7. Out of necessity or desperation. Necessity is truly the mother of invention. Desperation is likewise a powerful motivator. Some people say "to make money" is a bad reason to start a company. Granted, if you expect to make gobs of dough, you're probably in for a surprise. But sometimes it's just to put food on the table.
8. They were young and could afford to take risks. While I advise young people to get a real job and learn the ropes at a real company, on somebody else's dime, before going out on their own limb, there is a flip side to that. When you're young, you can afford to take big risks. There's plenty of time to recover later. True enough.
9. They saw a huge opportunity that nobody was capitalizing on. This usually takes the form of a big problem a group of customers have but there's no viable or cost-effective solution out there. Some markets are ripe for disruption by an innovative solution to a tough problem.
You know, I was thinking about spelling out some of the myths and pitfalls of doing your own thing, but I'm not going to do that today. It's something Han Solo said in "The Empire Strikes Back:" "Never tell me the odds." Besides, if you fall into one or more of these categories, you won't listen. And that, my friends, is as it should be.