Budding entrepreneurs: Find your 'big reasons'

Starting your own business is tough enough without knowing why you're really doing it. Prospective entrepreneurs, think carefully about what your 'big reasons' are to dive into entrepreneurship, Dr. Cornwall advises.

Sebastian Scheiner/AP/File
Israeli-American entrepreneur Shai Agassi, founder and CEO of "Better Place," a project that developed electric vehicles, stands at an electric charging station in Kiryat Ekron, central Israel, in 2011. Becoming an entrepreneur requires a little bit of soul-searching and a lot of sleepless nights, Dr. Cornwall says.

Once, while in the middle of what seemed like an endless series of crises in our business, one of my business partners looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Jeff, if it was easy owning a business, everyone would do it!”

He was right.  A career as an entrepreneur is a long and challenging journey.  There are many sleepless nights worrying about things such as having enough cash to make payroll, firing someone whose worked with you from the beginning even though you know it is the right thing to do, signing that personal guarantee required to get the bank loan you desperately need, or muddling through a business partnership that has gone bad.

“You have to be crazy to start a business,” says entrepreneur and author Barry Moltz.  And yet, every day hundreds and even thousands of people take the seemingly irrational act of starting a new business.  Why do we do it?

I see too many people start businesses without ever thinking through what really drives them to be an entrepreneur.  I think this is a mistake.

Entrepreneurs should be clear on their “big reasons” for starting a business.  What is it about your personality that drives you to follow through on this “crazy” act?  What are the fundamental goals in life that drive you?

For me there are four “big reasons” to be an entrepreneur.

First, I love finding solutions for complex problems.  I enjoy finding solutions for needs in the market.  It is more than just coming up with the concept. I love the process of designing and refining business models.  Nothing is more rewarding to me than figuring out all of the pieces of the puzzle that need to be in place to come up with a viable business to address a specific need.

In my work as a professor, I satisfy this same goal when I develop a class, design new curriculum, and write a book.

Second, I love to “build things.”  Once I have designed a model to solve a complex problem, I enjoy the process of implementation, which is a highly creative process.  It is never simply following the steps predetermined in a business plan.  Starting a business is much more like jazz than a symphony.  It is full of improvisation and surprises.

My third “big reason” for being an entrepreneur is tied to outcomes, rather than the process itself.  I like to create jobs.  Entrepreneurship is the engine for real economic growth.  Entrepreneurs create new businesses, and sometimes even new industries, which provide the fuel for economic expansion.  I have always enjoyed playing a small part in this critical function in our society.

The final “big reason” for me to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities is that it is quite simply, fun.  Even with all of the challenges and heartaches that come with owning a business, I get great joy out of being an entrepreneur.  In the end, life is short – fun matters.

If you are thinking about becoming an entrepreneur, reflect on your own “big reasons” for taking this path in your work life.  Talk about them with people who really know you to make sure that you are not missing something.  Then write them down so that when the going gets tough you can remind yourself why you chose to start your business in the first place.  You will need this perspective from time to time.

If you are already an entrepreneur, make sure that you are keeping your “big reasons” front and center in your life.  Make sure that all of the decisions you make help you achieve the fundamental goals that led you to become an entrepreneur in the first place.  If you get off track, take steps to get back to what is important to you, even if that requires you to make some big changes!

If your entrepreneurial career allows you to pursue what it truly important to you — your “big reasons” — maybe it is not so crazy to start a business after all.

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