Which job in the world will have you staying up till your eyes and your bones are begging you for sleep? Where will you find people who are willing to lose everything – everything! – for the sake of one more go at their dream? Walk into the life of an entrepreneur and you’ll see exactly that kind spark. The burning fires deep within the eyes of the mad, or the demented, or the insane, or merely those who wish to follow a dream, no matter what anyone else says.
In his book, Half Time, Bob Burford tells us that, ‘The first half of life is a quest for success, the second half is a quest for significance.’ Well, entrepreneurs must shoot through to that second half pretty quickly because in all the startup stories I read to prepare for this article, one thing pretty much stood out loud and proud.
Entrepreneurs need significance.
They have a need to change the world. Whether this is because they have spotted something missing and want to fix that, or whether they simply have a grand vision of how things should be. They want to make a difference.
If you have ever designed a website with a database, you will have heard of MySQL right? Marten Mickos, founder of MySQL AB says: ‘Entrepreneurialism is essentially a belief system: you must believe in something that is bigger than yourself’.
And the truth is, it is far more than just a belief; entrepreneurs need to have a burning desire within them to go through the kind of hardships that they have to endure - the years of failure and the heartache when things go wrong. It is how Caterina Fake, founder of Flickr, can sit with a smile on her face talking about the time when they only had enough money left to keep them going for 3 months. But more on hardship later.
Now, when someone first asked me, ‘What drives business startups?’ I thought about it for a second and arrived at the most obvious answer: Money! Of course!
Well, just look at the most famous startups you can think of: Facebook, YouTube, Virgin, Amazon, eBay. What links this diverse group of companies together? They are all High Net Worth companies. Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft is the second richest man in the world, according to the Forbes Rich List. You don’t get that far in life, in business, in the world, without wanting to earn humungous amounts of cash. Right?
Wrong. The further I looked into the Motivation, the Beliefs of Startups, the more I realised how wrong my one second answer was. In fact, for many of the entrepreneurs who make it big, earning money is way down the list, if it is on the list at all. After all, if you wanted big money, why not go and train as a banker or a lawyer or go and work in the corporate world? They have money to burn and there would be no sleeping under your desk because you have no-where to live, or mortgaging your life to the hilt just to keep going.
So what is it? What is the key magic ingredient that pushes 10% of start-ups over that Tipping Point and into successful territory?
Angela Duckworth, a researcher into success motivation would say that it is GRIT. That sheer determination that pushes people on to try when all the odds are stacked against them.
Simon Sinek, author of ‘Start With Why’, would say that people are successful not because they want to succeed, but purely because they have a basic need, driven by their brain anatomy to make their idea do well, whatever the cost.
Sinek also tells us of the story of an entrepreneur who could have been one of the most famous men in history, Samuel Pierpont Langley. Langley tried very hard to invent the first heavier-than-air flying machine. In fact, his earlier efforts attracted so much interest that he managed to secure a phenomenal amount in those days: A government grant of $50,000. But we have not heard of Langley. The man in the street would just look blank if you asked them about Samuel Pierpont Langley. Langley did not have the correct belief system to push his efforts past the tipping point. Instead, we have all heard of Wilbur and Oliver Wright who believed that they could do it and inspired a team of people to join them in that belief.
So, what is the right belief system? Are you a Langley or a Wright?
The Wright Brothers would go out with their team of trusted employees no matter what the weather conditions. They wanted to fly. They believed that man could fly and they did not stop until they did it.
Thomas Alva Edison, who was the fourth most prolific inventor in history has also been called the world’s biggest failure. How can the man who gave us the motion picture camera and the electric light bulb possibly be known as a failure? Because he just kept on trying until he succeeded. Never mind if the 50th prototype did not work, just get a new sheet of paper ready and design it a different way.
Did he do it for the money? Not at all! In fact, this is what he said about money: ‘Gold is a relic of Julius Caesar, and interest is an invention of Satan’.
Come close and I’ll whisper: He did it because he genuinely wanted to make the world a better place and crucially, he genuinely thought that he could do it. There may have been days when nothing went right. There may have been days when he had to listen to naysayers and doubters, or when cashflow was not what it could have been, but he just kept going.
I believe that these two things combine to make a great entrepreneur’s personality. The steeley determination which gives them that stubborn, pig-headed quality and a super human self-belief which makes them sure that their idea is the best idea in the world and everyone needs to know just how good it is.
And money? Well, that’s one of the perks of the job isn’t it?
What are the belief systems which set these guys apart from the sheep? What makes one person raise their head above the parapet and declare to the world: I will make this a success no matter what anyone else says? In the next post we will take a look at start-ups which should not have worked: the unlikeliest partnerships, the wackiest ideas, and the craziest hair in the business and find that spark which made them say ‘Yes I can!’