Before you start down the long, hard road of becoming an entrepreneur, it pays to look within yourself to see what you love to do and what would fit your definition of success. For some, it’s all about the chance to run your own show or to advance a cause you are passionate about. Others dream of being a billionaire or creating a legacy by starting and growing a family business.
In my experience, you will have the most satisfaction and success if you can combine a strong sense of “purpose” with an achievable business opportunity. Some founders are so passionate about their cause that they ignore business realities, while others are so money-driven that they sacrifice their ethics. Both ends of this spectrum will likely result in more long-term pain than fun.
One example of a startup with a good balance seems to be Whole Foods, whose focus on healthy foods and a sustainable environment is legendary, yet, their business success recently attracted a $13.7 billion buyout offer from Amazon. On the other hand, I worked with an entrepreneur who really wanted to cure world hunger but forgot that hungry people rarely have any money — a good aim for a relief organization, but not a business opportunity.
The challenge is to do the right homework and ask yourself the right questions to find a personal purpose and a business model that are complementary, and will likely provide you with a good shot at business success as well as personal satisfaction. Here are some key steps I recommend to get you started on the right foot:
- Identify a “higher purpose” that embodies your passion. Do you feel strongly about a social or environmental cause where you would love to make an impact as part of your legacy? Keys to this would be something that matches your values and could benefit from your strengths. Write it down and validate it through friends and social media.
- Set some specific goals and milestones for a business. Establishing a business goal requires the conceptualization of an idea into structured deliverables, and formalizing that idea into one to five specifics. Ideally, that formalization is the start of a business plan. It’s hard to know when you have arrived if you have never figured out where you are going.
- Start networking to pull together a complementary team. Contrary to a popular myth, entrepreneurship is not a solo endeavor. We all have strengths and weaknesses, so we need people around us who can fill in the gaps. Your ability to motivate other people with your passion will dictate future success, as well as satisfaction.
- Define your target customers and value proposition. Without customers, there is no business, and no higher purpose can be satisfied. If you can envision and quantify a set of customers that will be delighted with the value and higher purpose you offer, then you are well on your way to an entrepreneur lifestyle that you will love.
- Look beyond today to your long-term career aspirations. Even entrepreneurs need to think about their careers. Some are perennial “startup” people who can’t wait to hand off newly created ventures to experienced managers and then start the whole process over again with another idea. Others, like Bill Gates, want to develop and nurture a great company as their purpose.
- Solidify your values and expectations for workplace culture. In today’s environment, the workplace culture you crave is a critical factor in the type of business you will fit. Every company requires a high level of employee engagement, as well as customer-sensitive processes. Be sure you understand the complex issues surrounding remote workers and global operations.
Contemplating these steps should convince you that identifying your sweet spot in the entrepreneurial spectrum is not a simple exercise. It requires deep introspection and making some hard choices. These can be difficult now, but I assure you they will be more painful if ignored or pushed into the future. It’s better to decide now if being an entrepreneur is not for you.
Timing is everything. You may decide to start now, or you may wait and take time to build your skills, experience, and resources for a later entrepreneurial effort. There is no right or wrong time to start. I see successful entrepreneurs who started in their teens, like Mark Zuckerberg, and others, including Colonel Sanders, waited until well after some more conventional business roles.
The great thing about being an entrepreneur is that you can shape the business to be more “you” rather than let the employee role in a corporation drive you to be someone you don’t even like. It’s up to you. Take control of your destiny today.