“Fall in love with your why, not your idea.”— Greg Van Kirk, WEF Social Entrepreneur of the Year, Ashoka Fellow and Project X co-founder
We recently asked two dozen people in our community what came to their mind when they heard the word ‘entrepreneurship’.
What came back sounded a lot like a fairytale—billion dollar unicorns, retiring at 30, robots and self-driving cars, you name it. The myths of entrepreneurship are as engaging as they are debilitating, because what they represent is so often extreme. In our work helping entrepreneurs track a very different future, we challenge the many myths of the ‘sexy’ Silicon Valley entrepreneur:
- “Success in one miraculous bang” myth (such as exponential user growth or your venture on the front page of the Wall Street Journal)
- “I just need a 3-month runway and after that will be funded” myth
- “Startups only matter if they’re an app, blockchain, healthcare or AI” myth
- “Nature over nurture” myth (you’re either born an entrepreneur or you’re not)
- “Passion is everything” myth (because how else would you be able to put in all the hours?! (We’ll get back to this one specifically)
Entrepreneurship can feel much less daunting if we redefine it through a more purposeful lens of success. This makes it no less of an emotional rollercoaster, but the counterbalance is that the journey is not feverishly time-bound and anxiety inducing.
WHAT IS PURPOSEFUL ENTREPRENEURSHIP?
Purposeful entrepreneurship flips the equation. The driving factor is not your idea. It’s your ‘why.’ It is rooted in the belief that with the right growth mindset and the right community of peers and mentors almost anyone with a commitment to their ‘why’ can bring their project X to fruition.
In purposeful entrepreneurship, the tipping point usually takes years. It doesn’t take millions of dollars to succeed and it doesn’t need to be an all-consuming 80 hour a week affair. The trade off is patience, lots of it. But the result is a business to match your lifestyle, rather than a lifestyle barely existent in the life that is your business. In purposeful entrepreneurship, the vast majority are not building apps, nor do they have plans to scale into a unicorn in 18 months.
When you are purposeful, failures are just sharp-edged learning curves. They don’t knock you out of the game. Instead of running on adrenaline and anxiety, quick returns and over invested failures, all nighters of coding and weeks without a break, purposeful entrepreneurship invests in human relationships, health, sanity and quality of life.
We believe the core elements of purposeful entrepreneurship are intention, connection and experimentation.
Intention means having a deep sense of purpose. You are committed to the journey, not to the idea. Your initial ideas may fail, but when you are on a purposeful journey, you stay committed to being an entrepreneur.
Connection ensures the emotional rollercoaster of entrepreneurship is overcome by a community of support and guidance—at a peer level and with mentors.
Experimentation allows you to experiment your way into the life you want. You learn to take action first, see how the world responds, adjust, and take another small step. You get comfortable putting “imperfect” products out in the world.
Purposeful entrepreneurship flips the equation. The driving factor is not your idea. It’s
WHY PURPOSEFUL ENTREPRENEURSHIP?
Sustainable development. When we are purposeful, we build a meaningful life and a sustainable world. Although not often talked about, depression, burnout, or worse are all too frequent among entrepreneurs. Stress and overwork are the leading causes and they often start with the anxiety-inducing feeling of failing to deliver. When you approach entrepreneurship as a journey that’s aligned with your ‘why,’ you understand that failures of product, concept, or execution are not failures in life and that makes all the difference. You’re able to sustain your sanity, motivation, and focus as you build your business.
Managing relationships. In a typical entrepreneurship scenario, tensions often arise due to challenges in personal and professional relationships. The purposeful entrepreneurship approach aligns your personal priorities with your business goals and you’re less likely to fracture relationships as a result.
Long-term versus short-term. Purposeful entrepreneurship is focused on the long term. Products and trends may change, but when you start with your ‘why’ (think Apple), you weather the storms and build your business for years to come.
WHO IS A PURPOSEFUL ENTREPRENEUR?
A purposeful entrepreneur gives from a place of abundance — from their strengths, values and personal energy. It requires having a clear understanding of yourself as a resource: what you can give without overreaching into obligation and then depleting your reserves. There are lots of ways to define your skills (both hard and soft); understanding what yours are and making them front and center in your venture is fundamental.
A purposeful entrepreneur leads with their authentic self. When you’re authentic, you easily find like-hearted supporters and sales will never really feel “sales-y.” This means creating structure around what you can give and what you can invest in an experiment (time, money, emotion, creativity, etc). Creating these boundaries leads to a sense of security, even if your goals stretch your capacity.
Finally, a purposeful entrepreneur is not operating in a vacuum. This connection to others – our purpose – is distinct from passion, which can be isolating and internal looking. All the evidence points to purpose, rather than passion, as a renewable energy source.
HOW TO BUILD A PURPOSEFUL ORGANIZATION OR BUSINESS
Start with yourself. Do you have a strong understanding of your purpose? Do you know what values are important to you and what unique strengths you contribute to the world? Do you ask ‘what can the market do for me’ or ‘what can I do for the community’?
As a founder and a purposeful entrepreneur, you create the vision and thinking that are the foundation for the company ethos. When you have a strong understanding of your purpose, this thinking should extend to your company/efforts. What is your company’s larger claim to exist beyond generating revenue? What values does it represent and are those values meaningful to everyone involved with the effort? What benefit and impact does the company bring to the world and what problems is it solving? Once you create the strong foundation of purpose for yourself and your business, you can build anything.