Why do entrepreneurs do what they do? Why do they decide to start businesses, and what makes them stick with it? Furthermore, why do people who work for entrepreneurs decide to work for them?
According to a Kaufmann Foundation survey 74.8 percent of entrepreneurs indicated a “desire to build wealth” as an important motivation in becoming an entrepreneur. However, money isn’t everything.
The same survey showed that 68.1 percent of respondents indicated that capitalizing on a business idea was an important motivation toward becoming an entrepreneur as well. Meanwhile, 60.3 percent said working for others simply did not appeal to them and 66.2 percent said that the appeal of startup culture was a key motivation.
As it turns out, the reason people work for entrepreneurs (and especially why people become entrepreneurs) has to do with something much more than money. Cash is simply a byproduct for many successful business owners because they’re in pursuit of something money can’t buy — purpose.
A tale of two pioneers
One of my favorite stories about finding purpose in your work comes from entrepreneur and author Simon Sinek’s take on the Wright Brothers.
Sinek offered up a powerful anecdote in his TEDTalk called “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.”
He mentions how in the early 1900s, the quest for powered flight was booming. A man by the name of Samuel Pierpont Langley, an aviation pioneer, was racing to be the first to create a flying machine, and everybody thought he would do it.
Langley secured government grants, the finest equipment, and the newspapers even followed his attempts — he basically had the recipe for success. The way that Sinek tells it, Langley’s work in avionics was driven by money and the promise of fame.
However, a couple hundred miles away in Dayton, Ohio the Wright brothers were also working on powered flight. While they lacked many of the things Langley had acquired, they were driven by something greater … belief!
The Wright brothers believed that powered flight would change the world. That’s why, despite all of the government grants, newspaper coverage, and factors opposing them, the Wright brothers (not Samuel Pierpont Langley) are remembered for inventing flight.
Sinek offers up further proof that Langley was driven by the wrong thing by pointing out that the day the Wright brothers took flight, he basically quit. The Wright brothers (who had to take five sets of parts out with them every time they tested their flying machine because they predicted they’d crash at least five times before the day was over), who were hopelessly outgunned, succeeded because they were not driven by money or fame, but by belief.
The recipe for motivation
Belief essentially translates into purpose. Business author Daniel Pink, writing on motivation lists “purpose” as an essential driver in today’s business world.
Whether you’re a solopreneur or running a startup with multiple employees, the recipe for motivation, in Pink’s estimation is autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
Autonomy is important because somebody who is allowed to work how they want to is going to be much more motivated than another person who is forced to work in a way that runs counter to their natural flow. This is a huge reason why many entrepreneurs say that not having a boss is a key motivator.
Mastery represents the ability to get good at something. Intrinsically, we are all motivated to excel if we’re given the chance. As George Leonard writes in The“What we call ‘mastery’ can be defined as that mysterious process through which what is at first difficult or even impossible becomes easy and pleasurable through diligent, patient, long-term practice.”
Lastly, and most importantly, we are motivated by purpose. If you wake up every morning and hate your job and think it’s pointless and serves no good purpose, eventually you’ll quit. If you wake up every morning and hate your job, but you’re motivated by the pay, you may not quit right away, but you’ll eventually find a different job. A sense of purpose will not only motivate employees, but it also motivates customers to buy from you instead of your competitor. Hearkening back to Sinek, customers don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Proof of purpose is how customers determine that “why”.
How to find your purpose
Maybe you already have a purpose. It’s possible you just need help conveying that purpose to employees or customers. UAB Collat’s School of Business proposes a simple set of questions that, if answered honestly, can offer revealing insights.
If you haven’t already, ask yourself:
What is the end product my company produces?
Does it improve people’s lives in any way?
Is the world a better, safer or healthier place because of my company?
Does my organization provide a service that makes a difference?
Are you selling a technology that makes life easier or more convenient?
Does my company share its profits with employees?
Do the communities where my company operates benefit from these profits?
Is my organization involved in sustainability efforts?
Are we recycling, conserving energy, or reducing waste?
Does my company’s leadership care about the things that matter to me?
Do I feel that I can trust your organization’s ethical compass?
Am I earning a good living that allows me to lend financial support to others?
These questions are all precursors to what is called corporate social responsibility, something startups will not survive without in the modern age. The answers to these questions inform and help formulate your “why” or your beliefs, the same driving force that led the Wright brothers to build the first flying machine.
If you want your business to be successful, then find your purpose and make sure that it’s apparent to everybody that does business with you, because — to repeat Simon Sinek — people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
This article has been edited.
Andrew Heikkila is a writer, artist, and entrepreneur out of Boise, ID. He’s one of the four owner/operators of Earthlings Entertainment, a locally based artist collective committed to covering and putting on shows throughout the Northwest. likes writing about Millennial issues as well as what it takes to start and run a business that embodies purpose. If he’s not drinking craft beer (IPAs for the win) you can find him either making music with his homies or listening to music on a run. Connect with @AndyO_TheHammer on Twitter.