The Money-Trapped Entrepreneur

There are many motivating factors for becoming an entrepreneur. Some of us want to be in control of our own destiny. Others are overwhelmed with passion for a particular idea. And still others want to change the world. As we embark upon our entrepreneurial journey it’s important that we understand exactly what is motivating us to do so. Are we seeking recognition; do we want to build something important; do we desire to express greater creativity, or do we want to become wealthy? Likely our motivation is a combination of a number of these factors and even others not mentioned here.

As we contemplate our motivations there’s something else that is very important for us to consider. I’m going to call it the Entrepreneur’s Trap. It could also be called the Money Trap. The thesis goes something like this. An entrepreneur – let’s call him Dylan – wants to start a business. His friends ask him why and he professes that he has a novel idea that will make a real difference in the world. He doesn’t fit the corporate environment and has always wanted to be his own boss. These friends along with members of his family shower him with accolades for the purity of his motivations and encourage him to take the plunge.

What Dylan doesn’t tell anyone is that he really believes he can make a ton of money. He wants a massive mansion and a 70-foot yacht on an exclusive beachfront somewhere in the world. In fact, he may be suppressing this urge and trying to fool himself into believing that wealth and materialism really isn’t his main motivation. And of course, if he were to state publicly that he wants to become filthy, stinking rich, he would be viewed in a negative light by his friends and family.

Let’s get one thing straight. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the desire to amass great wealth. An entrepreneur who denies that making money is a motivating factor may struggle to succeed. Why? Because driving profitability is vital to the survival of every company. The investment of capital and time along with the inherent business risks deserves a return. Where it goes off the rails is when wealth and materialism is the ultimate objective. On the other hand, if achieving wealth and materialism is a means to a bigger end, the calculus is healthy.  

What does all this mean in a practical sense? If Dylan is obsessed with making money so he can build his massive beachfront mansion and buy the 70-foot yacht, he may become quickly frustrated when he misses his profit forecasts early on. He may lose patience just when it is needed the most. Certainly, there are examples of instant wealth that can be cited. But often, creating and building wealth is a marathon, not a sprint. The quest for being a “one percenter” can be fraught with other baggage. There may be an inclination to take shortcuts that are deficient in integrity or even legality. And how exactly do we build an organizational culture that is solely about making money for the entrepreneur? That’s certainly not a very inspiring mission for a team.  

I’ve written and said before that earlier in my career I was more inclined to worship the almighty dollar. But it seemed that the more I chased it, the more elusive it was. As I grew older and more mature my focus changed. There’s no doubt that wealth accumulation was still important, but it wasn’t my singular focus. Eventually my wife and I determined that we wanted to build wealth for the purpose of giving it away. Thus, was born the notion for us that generating wealth through entrepreneurship was a means to a bigger end. In our case, we established a family foundation with a mission and a purpose that will eventually provide funding for our preferred charitable causes after we are gone. But we aren’t waiting until we’re dead and buried to start this process. In 1999 we launched a scholarship program to help young people with their college expenses who aspire to become teachers. Not only do we know that in the future our financial assets will be directed to doing good work, but we get to witness the difference it makes right now while we are still alive.

We can avoid the Money Trap by using wealth and materialism to a bigger end. When we focus on that greater calling – whatever it may be – wealth will become a healthy result.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Trained Monkeys

Here’s a question for entrepreneurs that can actually be a rather perplexing conundrum. What is the value that we are adding to what we do every day? Could a trained monkey do it too . . . and maybe even better? Here’s the thing. We sometimes tend to fall into a rut that’s usually within our comfort zone. And then we go through motions every day – over and over and over. Oftentimes we become very, very good at what we do and so it is really easy to keep doing it – over and over and over. But, is it a truly fulfilling experience?

My father-in-law was a funeral director. He was very, very good at what he did and it was evident that he liked helping people. But he always said that when he turned 65 he was done and would retire. And that’s exactly what he did. I concluded that while he liked what he did, he didn’t love it enough to never want to stop doing it. I never did get a chance to ask him before he died what value he brought to what he did every day.

Entrepreneurs think a lot about money. Yet, those I’ve known who do what they do just to make a lot of money tend to become restless and bored. Making a lot of money may be great, but after a while it’s really just a way to keep score. And if we’re winning every day and only doing it for the money, how does one keep the “fire in the belly?” There must be something more.

There’s no denying that we entrepreneurs want to make money. And there’s nothing wrong with this – after all, most of us are unabashed capitalists. But just focusing on the money can lead to a fairly hollow existence. Money is a commodity and eventually we find ourselves feeling like the proverbial trained monkey. That’s when the trouble can begin. Being restless and bored can lead to many issues the least of which might be extramarital affairs, drug or alcohol abuse or even daredevil types of hobbies. I’m not casting aspersion on thrill-seeking activities, but we must examine the real reason that we pursue them. Is it because we are feeling unfulfilled in our business and/or personal lives?

All of this pondering leads us to conclude that we need to be doing something of substance in order to feel fulfilled. I’ve written before about value propositions where customers are concerned. But we also need a personal value proposition that winds us up and keeps us excited, happy and content. My value proposition is the same as my personal WHY (thank you Simon Sinek) which is to make sense of complexity. This manifests in many ways including consistently developing creative ideas and solutions. If a day goes by where I wasn’t challenged creatively or didn’t become immersed in something complicated, I don’t feel fulfilled. Thus, I try and always put myself in situations where this never happens.

Each of us needs to find our own personal value proposition. Perhaps it’s doing things the right way every single time. Maybe it’s about innovation and doing things a better way. Some of us want to make a contribution or a difference in the lives of others. There are those of us who want to create trust and build relationships, while others just want to simplify things. A few entrepreneurs live for mastering what they do and others want to create clarity. Of course there are always a few Steve Jobs types who want to challenge the status quo and think differently.

Discovering our own personal value proposition energizes us and keeps us coming back for more. Being a great entrepreneur hinges on our ability to continually maintain a sense of fulfillment.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

trained monkeys

The Story of the Faint Star

Question: I’m not satisfied with the amount of money I’m making. It seems that the harder I try the harder it is to reach my financial objectives. How do I resolve this?

Answer: It’s possible that you are trying too hard. I completely understand your predicament for I once was in exactly the same place. Earlier in my career and after working for what seemed to be an eternity, I was constantly frustrated by what I felt was a gap between my true value to my company and what I was actually being paid. In my mind I was expending my blood, sweat and tears to make someone else rich – obviously a classic case of “woe is me.” It seemed that the harder I reached for the dollars the more they eluded my outstretched fingertips. Then one day something clicked. I had an epiphany that maybe I was trying too hard. I think someone probably made this observation and I finally listened.

Have you ever tried to look at a faint star in the night sky – you know it’s there but the more you strain to see it the harder it is to find? But if you look ever so slightly to the right or to the left, all of a sudden you see it clearly with your peripheral vision. This same thing happened for me. I shifted my focus away from chasing the almighty dollar and intentionally decided to pursue that for which I was passionate. I loved to be creative and I loved working with other people. The money became the byproduct of my passion rather than the primary focus.

Something that you can do to absolutely guarantee a life of abundance is to tithe to that which feeds your soul. Many people tithe to their church. Others may have a charitable cause that deeply moves them. I have found that joyfully tithing 10% of my income – no matter how much or how little I might earn – allows me to tap into a flow of positive energy that ensures abundance. I know this to be true because the more I tithe the more my life has been enriched – financially and otherwise. When I tithe I don’t expect a quid pro quo. But over the past 40-years it has simply been a fact of my life that unconditional tithing has led to financial prosperity that I never dreamed I would experience.