When I talk to startup founders, I often subconsciously put them on a spectrum that ranges from what I call Missionary to Mercenary.
On the one end there’s the missionaries who will not rest until their idea has been adopted by the whole world. Their startup is a labor of love and their passion comes from wanting to see their ideas validated, their product in daily use, or some other change in behavior that reflects one of their core beliefs.
On the other end of the spectrum are mercenaries, paid soldiers who are motivated by cash. Their startup is a means to an end, and that end is being stupid rich. Their passion lies in a future state that includes freedom and respect – and lots of expensive stuff.
It’s futile to engage in “who is more successful” because the two groups measure success differently, although money tends to be the ultimate scoreboard.
Most entrepreneurs think they’re missionaries. They think that because they really care about their product and their idea. That’s why there’s such a strong community around startups. We’re all just broke, passionate people trying to change the world – trying to make it against overwhelming odds. But really, entrepreneurs are more “situational missionaries”. When a chance to cash out comes along, we’re ready to sell out our religion.
I think this is the reason that most entrepreneurs don’t “like” VCs. Because all VCs are (obvious) mercenaries. They love missionaries, so long as they can create cash.
The reality is that most entrepreneurs are a bit (or a lot) of both. I would put the truly great ones further on the left side of the scale (eg. Jobs, Zuckerberg) – the idea really does matter more than the money (or power, or fame). Most of my startup friends act like missionaries – they’re passionate about their product – and I tend to be off-put by mercenaries. But pretty much all the entrepreneurs I know want to get rich.
So I always have this nagging question in the back of my mind… since most founders are motivated by getting rich, why do so many startups, blogs, etc… treat entrepreneurship like its some kind of noble calling for sophisticated hipsters? And why are we buying into it?