Tim's images

Entrepreneurship: Why It’s Not about You

Looking across the living room of his expansive flat in Hong Kong’s tony Victoria Peak neighborhood, Peter Hamilton spoke in the calm, slightly world-weary voice of a man who will never again worry about earning a living.hong_kong_skyline.jpg

“The ones who made it,” he said softly, “are the ones who weren’t in it for the money. The fortune-seekers couldn’t sustain their passion through the hard times—and there were hard times.”

A transplanted Brit who launched a Web production company in Hong Kong in 1995, Hamilton was one of a handful of Internet entrepreneurs in the island colony who enjoyed a multimillion dollar payday after his firm was acquired by a company that later went public on NASDAQ.

Hamilton’s not alone. In interview after interview throughout Japan, Asia, and North America, successful entrepreneurs told me the samerodin_the_thinker.jpg thing, in different words and in different languages: “It’s not about the money.”

What, then, is entrepreneurship about?

Exploiting a market opportunity? Fame? Fortune? Proving yourself?

First, a tip as to what entrepreneurship’s not about: Entrepreneurship is not about you. It’s not about you getting rich, you proving something to the world, you struggling to overcome the odds.

Rather, it’s about you helping other people achieve their goals.

This is obvious when you think about it. Business is all about satisfying customers, right? Well, to satisfy customers, you need to help them save money, solve annoying problems, experience more satisfaction or pleasure, or earn a better living.

Put simply, in order to succeed as an entrepreneur, you must help other people.

helping_hand_from_climber.jpgEntrepreneurship, therefore, is about helping other people achieve their goals. It’s not about you (I’ll try to minimize repetition of that phrase in these final lines).

Successful entrepreneurs focus on others. Take Derek Sivers, for example. As the leader of a successful touring band, he needed a way to make his CDs available to fans everywhere, all the time—not just at concerts.

But Derek and his group were unattached to a major label, and big sellers like CDNow and Amazon required bands to have in-place agreements with large distributors. What was a hard-working, independent musician to do?

Derek decided to set up his own modest online sales channel, and soon friends from other bands were asking for help selling their music. Within a couple of years, the store, renamed CD Baby, was distributing the work of more than 90,000 artists. To date, it’s paid out more than $80 million to the more than 200,000 independent artists it now represents. Derek focused on helping others.

success_in_dictionary.jpgSuccessful entrepreneurs undertake ventures that benefit many people. My personal theory is that ventures are successful to the degree that they generate social benefits. I’m no fan of Microsoft’s products or business practices, but who can deny that the company enabled personal computing for a billion citizens? (Too bad Apple missed its chance to make that contribution—we’d probably all be a mellower bunch.)

So success as an entrepreneur is not about you. Ooh—I feel another Clark’s Rule coming on—I think I’ll call this one Clark’s “About” Rule for Entrepreneurs (CARE): It’s Not About You.

Now the question is, what do you CARE about?

This essay first appeared as a guest post at Get Rich Slowly in a slightly different form.

You may also enjoy:

For Entrepreneurs Starting with Nothing, Here’s the Ultimate Strategy

How to Create Wealth, How to Keep Wealth

How to Go Solo Without a “Big Idea

8 Comments to Entrepreneurship: Why It’s Not about You

On Oct 9, 2008, DCO Weekend Reader - 10/10/08 commented:

[…] thoughtful article on what entrepreneurship is really about.  Like I’m fond of saying, the lessons in this post can easily extend well beyond […]

On Oct 15, 2008, charles faris commented:

hear hear! i heartily agree. there are much easier ways to make money than launching something no one has heard of or can even begin to understand.

and yet, getting out of the box is just about the only way to really help people the way they are, not the way they have to contort to fit into some massive program…

what i care about is people all over the world living a life that inspires them, lives full of happy relationships, meaningful careers, vital health. Seems like a gimme.

On Oct 16, 2008, The Grand Pursuit | Derek Sivers commented:

[…] Entrepreneurship (“businessing”?) feels like a grand pursuit of helping other people achieve their goals. […]

On Nov 29, 2010, Philip W commented:

This a great article and shows how people with dollar signs in their eyes will not be able to endure this inevitable hardships that arise when building your own business. Helping customers and contributing to society should go hand in hand.

On Nov 29, 2010, by Tim commented:

Well said, Phil – thanks for stopping by!


On Nov 30, 2010, Justin commented:

Great Perspective!

On Dec 1, 2010, Trish commented:

I remember making a comment to a group of angel investors that I wanted to have a business that stemmed from my passion for health promotion and was financially strong enough to support my family. The group seemed opposed to funding such an endeavor. It appears to be difficult to balance passion for a product or service and getting buy in from investors that are so focused on high returns and explosive growth. They suggested I think bigger.

On Dec 1, 2010, by Tim commented:

This is an important point.

The moment you accept funding from professional investors, your relationship to your company fundamentally changes, because investors (rightfully) require a return on their investment, and you must eventually sell your company in order to achieve that return for them (few except the ideologically or personally committed will accept earnings distributions have sufficient return).

Professional investment = drive toward exit (sale of company) is generally an unalterable equation.

By “thinking bigger,” your audience meant creating a scalable business that would be attractive to buyers. Few buyers are interested in lifestyle ventures (companies meant to support the founders with a comfortable living or lifestyle), because such ventures generally have little value once the founder leaves.

Thanks for an excellent comment, this leads into a very long discussion :-)

Leave a Reply

nourish your soul

RSS graphic

Enjoy FREE inspiration with the Soul Shelter RSS feed. Or have each new article delivered FREE to your inbox.

The Prosperous Peasant

Our book

The Prosperous Peasant
(Read a chapter for free)