Why entrepreneurs take the path less travelled

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It is one of the most enduring myths about those who take the “difficult, uncharted” path of starting their own business that they are primarily motivated by money.

But that is simply not the case, according to Gugu Mjadu, general manager of marketing at South African risk finance company Business Partners, who calls this a “crude misunderstanding”.

For Mjadu, there are many easier ways to make money than starting a business, and what really drives and fulfills entrepreneurs is totally unrelated to financial gain.

“There are many different goals that an entrepreneur tries to achieve when they risk so much and work so hard for their businesses,” she said.

“While entrepreneurs’ sets of inspirations can differ greatly, there are broad patterns that help us understand these complex soldiers of economic growth and wealth creation.”

According to Mjadu, there are three different types of entrepreneurs: those that are necessity-driven, high-growth entrepreneurs, and lifestyle entrepreneurs.

Necessity-driven entrepreneurs, she said, account for the larger portion of business owners. This type of entrepreneur starts their businesses because they have no other choice, with their survival depending on it.

Mjadu said necessity-driven entrepreneurs scrape together what they can, often starting their business by copying others in often over-traded markets, where growth and progress are rare.

“Driven by survival, their fulfillment often has a strong family focus, and they will work hard to provide food or put their children through school so that their lives may one day be less challenging,” she said.

High-growth entrepreneurs, on the other hand, are the scarcest type, though these individuals are the examples most people think of when the word ‘entrepreneur’ is mentioned.

“High-impact individuals’ fame has made names such as Mark Shuttleworth, Oprah Winfrey and Elon Musk synonymous with entrepreneurship.” Mjadu said.

She said these entrepreneurs are often driven by imperial ambition rather that getting rich.

“These high-growth entrepreneurs want to build an empire, and money is merely a means to that end. Their fulfillment, if indeed they are ever satisfied, lies more in building power, influence and a formidable legacy.”

Societies would benefit from having more entrepreneurs with drive such as this.

“One of these individuals can do an enormous amount of good, from being a role-model and job creator to disrupting vested interests with their radical new ways of doing things,” Mjadu said.

Between the survivalist entrepreneurs and the high-flyers, lies a third group of business owners – the lifestyle entrepreneur. This group is difficult to generalise as these entrepreneurs come from vastly different backgrounds and industries. Mjadu said, however, that if there is one common characteristic they all share, it is their yearning for independence.

“The majority of these entrepreneurs say they have no desire to be the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. Rather, they seek their fulfillment in financial independence and the freedom to choose their own working hours, deadlines and pace,” she said.

However, anyone who thinks this is a sort of laziness has probably never run a business, she said.

“Creating and running a business successfully takes an enormous amount of work, creativity and persistence to become financially independent, and even more to get a business to a place where you can start working flexible hours.”

The things that fulfill these entrepreneurs can differ widely, said Mjadu.

“For example, smaller lifestyle entrepreneurs find fulfillment in being excellent artisans, such as restaurateurs, while others find deep satisfaction in providing outstanding customer care. More family-focused entrepreneurs may live for providing career paths for their children, and dream of a business that stretches over generations,” she said.

Ultimately, however, all types of entrepreneurs end their careers as pillars of the community, and find fulfillment in ‘giving back’ to the people who have supported their business.

“This often makes retired business owners ideal mentors to new generations of entrepreneurs, as they find fulfillment not only in sharing their business skills, but also in passing on their amazing spirit of generosity. As such we should encourage all experienced entrepreneurs to consider mentorship in a drive to increase entrepreneurship in the country,” Mjadu said.

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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