Starting a venture can be extremely rewarding; financially, emotionally and psychologically. However, successful entrepreneurs endure weeks, months and even years of preparation before launching their venture. Recurring obstacles provide growth, change and improvement opportunities.
This preparation work is extremely challenging as it is often unrecognised. It is also very hard to understand whether the venture is growing or just treading into an endless cycle of development. As I have established before, being an entrepreneur is not easy nor is it for everyone. Successful entrepreneurs have a huge drive, motivation and resilience in order to build their venture.
It is hard to maintain your entrepreneurial enthusiasm.
During tough moments doubt, discouragement and stress (or even more extreme feelings that can lead to depression) are normal. It is important to keep in mind how to deal with these feelings.
Dealing with these feelings is hard, but preparing in advance is, in my opinion, a great strategy. Making money is not a strong enough motivator to get you through the challenges of starting your venture. I argue that having a clear purpose empowers the entrepreneur by:
- Sustaining the entrepreneurial enthusiasm;
- Helping to deal with negative feelings;
- Developing a feeling of personal fulfilment;
- Guiding the entrepreneurial process;
- Inspiring others to follow you;
- Funnelling the founder(s) passion into a shared vision.
When founders find their purpose
An individual becomes an entrepreneur after one of the following:
- Recognising a need (problem);
- Devising an idea (solution).
In the case of the former, the entrepreneur starts searching for a solution to the problem and, in case of the latter, searching for a group of people who need that solution.
Early-stage entrepreneurs are always searching for something.
Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. It is a calling. To constantly be in search of something (whether it is a solution to a problem, a group of people in need of a solution or your business model) is not something everyone is made for. Some people just don’t have the drive for it. People might be driven by different things (family vs work).
Entrepreneurs that are aware of the process they must endure are driven by an overarching purpose to create value. This purpose will directly impact the vision, mission, initial strategy and team of the venture.
Purpose is the driver of entrepreneurship.
Purpose is the key element that sustains the founder(s) during rough patches, draws others towards ideas and builds a shared vision. Purpose is the framework that must guide the strategy of your future company. This argument is sustained by a very influential paper by Melissa Carson from Pace University (see here and here). Making money is not a strong enough motivator to get you through all of the challenges of starting your own company.
One of the biggest mistakes startups make is that they start developing a venture that they are not passionate about – because entrepreneurs like to be in a build-first mindset (focus on having the right mindset instead of building stuff no one actually wants). There is no such thing as an overnight success. A lot of entrepreneurs fail because they couldn’t stand working on something they’re not passionate about.
Finding your purpose is a process and takes time. It also takes guts. Don’t be scared of risking making a fool out of yourself. Finding and communicating your purpose is a trial and error exercise, and will make you feel vulnerable. You are not going to get it right the first time. And that is fine. There is a saying I love:
Fortune favours the bold.
We all struggle when doing things we dislike. Worst case scenario, you should, at least, struggle doing something you love! It is the only way you will not have any regrets.
Pursue your passion. What could be more fulfilling?
Having a clear purpose statement will not only guide your entrepreneurial journey but also give you the drive needed. Successful entrepreneurs such as those behind Facebook, Google, Virgin, Tesla or even the Government of Dubai achieved “glory” because of their persistence to overcome obstacles and drive to create value.
Harvard leadership expert and best-selling author Bill George argues that the best leaders and entrepreneurs follow their intrinsic motivations and are able to sign their strengths with it. Some intrinsic motivations are:
- Making a difference in the world;
- Finding personal meaning from building a business;
- The satisfaction of doing something great;
- Personal growth and accomplishment;
- Seeing the real value of one’s beliefs;
- Helping others achieve their goals.
Most successful entrepreneurs can attest that once they discovered their real purpose they were able to start making a difference, find a sense of commitment and leadership, direct their own actions and enjoy satisfaction.
Wear failure as a badge of pride.
This purpose also helps entrepreneurs dealing with failure and learning from it. Failure can easily bring out negative, self-destructive, feelings and, in extreme cases, lead to depression. Having a specific greater purpose will give you the energy and inspiration to continue, not for one day or two, but for a long period of time!
Purpose, when defined and adequately acted upon, creates enormous benefits. A big part of the challenge is to instrument it accordingly. Meaning, to make it tangible and successfully communicate it to a wider audience.
Purpose makes employees dare to explore, to challenge, to insist, to keep pushing and to have the determination to succeed. It provides the ability to perform and succeed. Co-founders, co-workers and employees, all want to feel they are doing something bigger than themselves; more than simply satisfying job requirements and earning a paycheck (knowing that in early-stage startups, quite often, paychecks may not even exist). Innovative and smart people want to surround themselves with passionate and ambitious people. These are the people you want to attract to your venture.
Prospective employees start seeing your venture as an attractive place to work; similarly, employee engagement can reach above-average levels. People who are passionate about the problems that you are trying to solve, they will be energised by any challenge that stands in their way. This is especially relevant for early-stage ventures and/or those bootstrapping.
Successful entrepreneurs remain engaged to the extreme with their ventures; and are also able to surround themselves with great people and empower them to extend their purpose.
Examples are Mark Zuckerberg (founder and CEO of Facebook) who continues to personally welcome all new employees. H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum (Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai) after setting an ambitious and disruptive vision for his country, has been able to attract the best talents, nurture them, and ultimately empower them to implement this vision in their own domains of expertise.
A study from Queen’s University found that team productivity rises 15% when employee engagement is high. A well-defined purpose is proven to lead to more engaged and productive employees.
Employee engagement positively impacts customer satisfaction and loyalty. Provided that utility is met, prospective customers (especially millennials and gen-Yers) are eager to support purpose-driven organisations. Moreover, prospective customers have to believe you are in the business of helping them. If not, you are nothing more than a commodity.
The same study from Queen’s University also found that customer satisfaction is 30% greater when employee engagement is higher.
When your venture acts with a higher purpose it is much easier to gain traction.
The community in which you operate (or wish to operate) your venture is, most certainly, in need of a lot of help. Businesses (consequently Startups) represent the best way to change these communities. A purpose-driven venture has a much more far-reaching impact on its surrounding communities.
After finding your Business Model
As I said above, and as your venture grows and turns into a business, instrumenting your purpose is a big challenge. Your purpose will drive the vision of the company and culture. This is what provides the organisation and all its components with the energy and drive to succeed. Purpose of the founder(s) gets softly shared from day one and influences the establishment of norms, expectations and duties.
Purpose is for the founders what vision is for companies.
In a future article, I will further explore the role of Vision in the entrepreneurial process.
Bringing it all together
Being an entrepreneur is a challenging endeavour and only a select few are made for it. However, purpose is a driver for entrepreneurial success/survival as it plays a role on the self, others and the future organisation.
Despite being often overlooked and discussed very little, defining a purpose and instrumenting it is one of the first activities one must undertake in the entrepreneurial process. Before doing this exercise you must also check if you are an entrepreneur.