Four Motives of Entrepreneurs

by James Cannon Johnston

Entrepreneurs in the United States enjoy substantial respect, admiration, and even hero worship. But in reality, most people see entrepreneurs only within a simple popular caricature. They make assumptions and draw conclusions that fit this caricature, not the actual entrepreneur. This is a big problem because real entrepreneurs don’t fit within a single caricature and differ a lot from each other.

If you are an entrepreneur, the people around you, even those in close contact, don’t understand you very well. You may not understand yourself very well, when you come right down to it. I’ve realized, through working closely with many dozens of entrepreneurs, that they found and build businesses for four main reasons. The motivation that fits the popular caricature is to make a lot of money. Surely that is part of your motivation. But it’s not the whole story, even for the entrepreneur that is most similar to the popular caricature

1) Make a Lot of Money

            Making a lot of money is a reliable and important motivator. For some it’s #1. If it doesn’t motivate you at all, you might find it hard to build a sound business. Making a lot of money, aside from being something you want for yourself, is also a good indication that you are delivering a lot of value to society (unless you lie, cheat, or steal to make your money).

2) Prove Something

            Many entrepreneurs really want to prove something, to themselves, their parents, a former boss, a rival, or somebody. They want to prove they can succeed. They want to prove that an unconventional approach can, in fact, be made to work gloriously. They want to prove they are right about something important that most people don’t see.

3) Change the World

            If this is your motive, you want the world to become different and better because of your business. Something about the world just strikes you as needing to change. You want your legacy to include that you made a difference. You probably began to think about starting a business when you realized that it was the best or only way to cause the change you desire.

4) Be Independent

            This is your motive if you started your business to avoid having a boss, avoid having to explain yourself all the time to other people, and avoid being dependent. This motivation is a primal one that can carry you through the early phase of your business. But as your business grows, it will start to interfere with your independence—this is the entrepreneur’s paradox. You become interdependent with customers, employees, suppliers, investors, and lenders and you end up doing a lot of explaining!

            Think about entrepreneurs you admire (or not) and what motivates them. You understand the person and the business by understanding the motivations. This is especially worth pursuing when the person you seek to understand is yourself.

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