What Is the Main Reason People Start Businesses?

While driving home from a buddy’s house where we spent a great 4th of July on the beach watching fireworks, roasting marshmallows, and enjoying friends, my wife and I were blasting the music. Before long, Janis Joplin came on the radio, croaking out her classic “Me and Bobbie McGee” and one lyric really caught my ear this night:

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

I think the fact that it was the 4th and freedom was on everyone’s mind was what caused that line to resonate, but whatever the reason, it evoked a discussion: “Is freedom just another word for nothing left to lose”? My wife and I both agreed that no, it’s not. Freedom is more optimistic than that we concurred.

And given my bent, I added that I thought the reason most people went into business for themselves was in fact freedom. They wanted to be free to do what they wanted, how they wanted, when they wanted. They wanted to be free of their boss. They wanted to be free to make as much money as they could. They even wanted to be free to fail.

My wife disagreed, and clearly her bias came through too, but she thought most people became entrepreneurs out of a need for creativity; they wanted to live and work more creatively, as an expression of their inner purpose.

So which was it?

Well, it turns out we were both right.

I dug in, did some research, and tried to find some statistical data as to why people go into business for themselves. Here is what I found:

Last year, Inc. Magazine surveyed entrepreneurs on this exact question: Why did you start your own business? It turns out that the reasons are multi-fold, but creativity and freedom are essential. Here are the Top 5:

 #5: The Challenge. Chalk one up to the need to be creative. The 5th most popular response to the survey was that entrepreneurship mixed things up. As one respondent to the survey said, “The great thing about owning a small business is I rarely experience the same day twice”.

#4: Risk and Reward: Entrepreneurs are wired differently than other people, and one way this is so is that they have a much higher tolerance for risk. Risk was the juice. One participant said that starting a business was like a high stakes game of poker.

#3. You get to pick your team: Chalk one up for freedom. Entrepreneurs, it turns out, like the idea that they are free to hire as they see fit and thus work with the people they choose to work with.

#2. Work/life balance: Another freedom-based answer. The second most popular reason for striking out on one’s own is that one can then choose their own hours and way of working.

#1: Freedom: As Inc. put it, the #1 answer was that people become entrepreneurs because it allows them to “control their own destiny.”

And that also happens to sound an awful lot like a country we are all pretty fond of.

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