Entrepreneur Beginners Guide
“You Have the Right Motivation”
Money was never the motivation.
—Katarina Witt, German figure skater, model
As an entrepreneur develops, so should that person’s motivation. In most cases, we talk about motivation’ in general terms; rarely, if ever, do we place a value judgment on the different types. We assume that all motivation, as long as it catalyzes entrepreneurial activity, is acceptable. Or we assume that most entrepreneurs are ultimately motivated by money. (The goal of business, after all, is to make a profit.) However, these common assumptions do not help us delineate and value the different types of motivation, which can be used to examine an entrepreneur’s success or failure— and progress or retrogress—at a given moment. For example, entrepreneurial motivation varies in intensity, validity, and sustainability. To better explain these degrees of difference, I have formed a context or framework that attempts to explain the natural maturation of a typical entrepreneur’s motivation in three basic stages along with some of their challenges.
- The .first level of motivation has to do with one’s desire to leave or to avoid a job because of unsatisfactory conditions, whether it’s a demanding workload, little freedom, difficult colleagues, lack of opportunity, or low pay. While employed, this future entrepreneur wishes to leave a job but has an unwillingness or hesitation to forfeit some of the comforts of employment. These comforts may include a lack of responsibility, a steady paycheck and benefits, or a sense of security.
This level is the least mature and organic motivation for entrepreneurship. The motivation comes from an urge to get away or to escape, not to solve a business problem. Besides, other jobs can always offer a better experience and thus alleviate unsatisfactory conditions. In the case that a person finds such an accommodating job, the urge to pursue entrepreneurship subsides. Furthermore, this person is likely pursue entrepreneurship to recreate a similar environment to the one just abandoned, but on one’s own terms. This entrepreneur is working to restore a level of comfort. There-fore, entrepreneurs who are at this level rarely go beyond self-employment or sole proprietorship and opt for lifestyle entrepreneurship. Regardless, when the courage comes to leave the job and to start a business, the motivation goes to the second level.
- The second level of motivation deals with survival, and is perhaps the most natural level of the three. This motivation is ingrained in us as humans. Still, an entrepreneur who escaped the confines of a 9-to-5 will struggle to grow accustomed to this new motivation, especially in going from an employee mentality to an entrepreneur mentality. While entrepreneurs eat only what they kill, employees cat regardless of what they kill. While entrepreneurs don’t expect a steady paycheck, employees know exactly how much they will earn and when that amount will be paid. While entrepreneurs believe that the potential of their company is greater-than the compensation from any job, employees define their potential within the confines of their company. Most importantly, entrepreneurs are motivated by an intrinsic sense of survival, and employees are motivated by an extrinsic sense of entitlement.
This level presents a unique but understandable problem for entrepreneurs. I call it the “subsistence entrepreneurship” problem. Entrepreneurs motivated primarily by survival or by maintaining a certain standard of living often don’t exceed the efforts needed to meet these goals. As a result, their businesses hardly grow. Entrepreneurs may start new, promising ventures, but inevitably their growth is limited by their own efforts or lack of ambition to overachieve. Entrepreneurs at this level must devise a clever growth strategy and goals that pull them outside of their new equilibrium. Most entrepreneurs never go beyond this level of motivation.
- The third level of motivation has to do with creating a great product or service that meets a need or solves a problem. As op-posed to the previous two levels, only this level finds motivation within the context of the business world. Therefore, this level of motivation is most appropriate and conducive to high achievement.
For example, PayPal was not necessarily created to make global payments and money transfers via the Internet easier. Instead, it stemmed from cofounder Peter Thiel’s libertarian beliefs fortified while a college student. PayPal was a solution to the problem of countries, dictators in particular, manipulating currencies and thereby destroying free-market systems. Similarly, Facebook’s cofounder Mark Zuckerberg has been driven by a desire to create a great product that makes the world more transparent and connected.
The most revered entrepreneurs of our lifetime have over-whelmingly come from a position of financial privilege, which largely allows them to bypass the first two levels of motivation. For the most part, they do not have to contend with the psychological baggage and limitations of the previous levels. For example, focusing on building a revolutionary product is much easier when you don’t need to work a full-time job to eat or pay the bills. Statistics show that most entrepreneurs do not have this advantage.
There certainly are other motivations for becoming an entrepreneur than the three presented here, but they are inferior. The goal of entrepreneurs should be to align their motivation with their business’s objective, which is an element of the third and highest level of motivation. Once you achieve this level, your company has the highest potential for greatness.