Jonathan D. Stephens


The Power Of Creating: What Really Drives Entrepreneurs?


The following is a guest post by my good friend Zack Mansfield.  Zack has been an active member of the entrepreneurial ecosystem since 2004.  He currently manages the early stage practice in the Southeast and Mid Atlantic for a leading venture bank and has worked directly with hundreds of startup companies of various stages over the last eight years.  He received an undergraduate business degree from the UNC-Chapel Hill Kenan-Flagler Business School.  Zack and his wife Tracy are the proud parents of two children, are active members of the Summit Church, and serve on the Durham-Chapel Hill Young Life Committee.  You can follow Zack on Twitter, connect on LinkedIn, or read more of his thoughts on his blog, Runway To Exit.

Over the last 8+ years, I’ve spent my professional life working in and around entrepreneurial companies.  For me, there is simply nothing like being a part of the startup ecosystem.

As a student of the entrepreneurial world, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why it is that people are so drawn to starting and growing companies.  This is a particularly interesting question because at a very basic level, startups don’t make a lot of sense as a career.

For the most part, we tend to be very rational creatures, and thus tend to gravitate towards careers that provide stability and visibility into an income that can support us and our families.  Most of us want to be interested by our work, for sure, but at the end of the day we are often working in order to pay the bills and provide things like education, experiences, and just plain fun for those we love.  We work, in many cases, so we can play.

Startups are not a good option for this type of logical framework.  There is quite a bit of research data that shows that entrepreneurial ventures are not “safe” by any objective measure.  Over the last 50 years or so, the data has remained remarkably consistent.  Approximately 25% of all new businesses don’t last a year before shutting down.  And more than half close their doors within 5 years.  Even those who “make it” often find that startups require you to work harder, for more hours, while earning less money than in other, safer work opportunities.

Yet, every single day I spend time in coffee shops or on the phone with people – individuals like you and me – who are quitting their day jobs and taking the fairly irrational risk to start companies.  So the question is Why?

I recently asked a number of entrepreneurs who I work with to answer this very simple question – “why did you decide that startup life was the right life for you?”  I intentionally asked a wide cross section of people to avoid any selection bias – these are CEOs of companies in different industries and geographies, male and female, with diverse ages, personal backgrounds and general views on life.

The answers I received in response were remarkable.  Not a single entrepreneur listed the probability of generating extreme wealth as the #1 reason for doing a startup.  There were a couple who mentioned the risk/reward curve as a secondary reason for building a company.  But almost unanimously there was a different theme that emerged, something bigger than success/failure or risk/reward.

It was about creating something. They stated things like:

  • “I crave the creation process.  Shaping something out of nothing is deeply gratifying”
  • “I love building things and seeing them used and appreciated”
  • “Building a product, team, and company from zero is incredibly challenging, rewarding, and fun.”
  • “I like creating things. Whether its a company or a product, making something that other people use and love is extremely rewarding”
  • “The joy of creating something from nothing”

Within every single entrepreneur was a deeper reason for building a company: a desire to create.

As a Christian, when I hear these quotes I can’t help but think to the creation account in Genesis 1.  It says there that at the end of the 6th day, “God saw all that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”

The JOY of creating something from nothing – it has been there since the very beginning, and it’s still here today.  Even for those who don’t profess to have any belief in God or any specific Christian faith, there is a draw to this creation process that is, in my view, imparted into us precisely because we are created beings.  When we create there is a hint of the divine, that taste of what we all, deep down truly desire but can’t quite put our finger on – or as CS Lewis describes it, the “scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited”.

Perhaps you’re already an entrepreneur or perhaps you’re thinking of joining a startup.  You should know that if you go down this road, it’s likely to be hard and full of challenges.  But it’s also a path which is steeped in the very nature of God, with traces of the divine in the seemingly mundane.  Take a cue from our Creator as you create – find joy in knowing that what you’re doing is, indeed, very good.

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