Entrepreneurship is definitely having a moment. Arguably, starting your own company has never been more fashionable or popular, with the number of small businesses in the U.S. steadily rising each year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
But if you’re thinking about starting a business, how should you go about deciding what business to start? The world is full of tempting opportunities and most entrepreneurs have more ideas than they effectively pursue.
My advice is to choose as a missionary, then execute as a mercenary.
The concept of missionary CEOs versus mercenary CEOs was first popularized by the 2001 book, “The Monk and the Riddle: The Art of Creating a Life While Making a Living,” by venture capitalist Randy Komisar. He encourages would-be leaders to focus on passion and purpose, instead of just revenue and returns.
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Personally, I think each mindset has its place, and that the secret to a successful and fulfilling journey is to put them in the correct order. Namely, when you’re choosing your business, think like a missionary. Once you’re committed to a business, run your ship like a mercenary. This is far preferable to the reverse order.
When you are evaluating a host of different possible ventures, ask yourself, “What would I want to do, if I didn’t need the money?” You may find this a hard question to answer at first. But just maybe, you will find that it’s something you’ve always worked on, on the side, in your spare time, just because. You might recognize it as a pet peeve or a personal crusade. And you can often express it as a battle against something, whether that’s bad hair days or discrimination in lending.
Once you’ve put your finger on the problem that you’re passionate about as your mission, then it’s time to switch hats to ask yourself, “How can I solve this problem for maximum profit?” You’ll want to evaluate possible solutions through an opportunistic and capitalistic lens, instead of falling in love with a specific approach.
In my own startup, I selected a problem that was near and dear to my heart as a working mother – overwhelming choices when shopping for my family, especially online. As someone who doesn’t like to shop, this is a pain point and a puzzle that I have gladly dedicated my life to fixing. However, as a mercenary, I am also committed to finding a way to solve the problem that is maximally profitable.
So if you’re looking ahead to 2015 and thinking about throwing your hat into the entrepreneurial ring, make sure to first put on your missionary thinking cap, then your mercenary one.