“If you’re in it just for the money, find another line of work.”
Some founders I coach hate hearing that. Real entrepreneurs get it. A founder’s focus on being rich is one criteria I use to filter out seed investment opportunities. I do so because if someone is too concerned with lining their own pockets, they won’t be concerned enough with building a business, crafting a corporate culture, or taking care of their employees – all of which ironically are necessary for a founder to get rich.
The transient value of money
One reason money is not a worthy objective is because cash is of transient value. Yes, you can buy many fancy and luxurious things. But these are items of comfort and amusement and not anything that creates human value.
One aspect of Silicon Valley culture I am delighted with is the near universal attitude of giving away fortunes in personal wealth in order to improve humanity. Our locally minted billionaires routinely shed most of their lucre, knowing that what little they keep is more than sufficient for a luxurious lifestyle.
They understand that they were not primarily in business to be rich, but to change things. Once they earned more money than they could possibly spend, they sought to use that money to continue changing things through charity.
The permanent value of achievement
This is the nature of entrepreneurialism – the desire for change.
Change comes in many forms. One can change a market, as Apple did with iPhones. You can change an industry, as Linus Torvalds did by creating and maintaining the Linux operating system. You can change the world, as Ronald Reagan did by encouraging and facilitating the fall of the Soviet Union.
Creating change is an achievement, and achieving things is hugely motivating. In my book Tough Things First I tell the story of how, as a teenager, I mastered the high hurdles, despite functional handicaps (short legs, having to jump using alternate leading legs, etc.). There was no money involved in high school track and field events. But there was a great sense of accomplishment when the school’s track coach, who once told me I could not run high hurdles, had to hand me the medal for winning the championship.
This sense of accomplishment is what does and should drive most entrepreneurs. At times it is understated, as when a technically minded founder is exploring what is possible with a product. Other times it is nearly messianic as a business leader seeks to dominate their industry. In the middle you have those startup CEOs who find joy in the minutia of building their business and being as involved in every aspect of it as they can.
On rare occasions, a founder demonstrates all three elements.
The enduring value of business
Discussed too little is the value of building an enduring business.
When one creates a company that outlasts the founders and his grandchildren, then there is a level of accomplishment that is historic. It can be as iconic as the 130-year-old American beverage company Coca Cola (founded in 1886) or as obscure as the Japanese construction company Kongō Gumi (founded in 578 and operated for 1,428 years).
Such empires require more than a strong leader, because leaders grow old and die. It requires establishing a mission in which generations of employees believe, a corporate culture that guides their decisions and directions, and a public trust that institutionalizes a brand.
Foremost in creating enduring businesses is creating great employees. I told Micrel employees I might not make them rich, but I would help them to be better people. So much of Micrel corporate culture focused on the dignity of every individual. By focusing more on people than profits, we elevated both.
What is your motivation
Before developing your product and launching your startup, search your soul. Be sure of your motivations. I hope you do get rich, but even more I hope you have purpose, as that makes getting rich that much easier.