I think there are tons of reasons to be a founding entrepreneur… some good, some bad, some ultimately inconsequential. Being a startup founder isn’t for everyone ultimately, in fact it probably isn’t for most people. My old boss Reid Hoffman used to say founding a company is like throwing yourself off a cliff and assembling an airplane on the way down.
But drawing from my own experience as an entrepreneur and the thousands of entrepreneurs I’ve had the good fortune to meet as a VC, here are some of the unifying reasons I’ve seen in nearly all (in no particular order).
1) Creating an Organization from the Ground Up - Picking co-founders and then later hiring other great folks is always tough, but founding entrepreneurs get to choose their colleagues and together create an organization and culture of their own.
2) The Pyramid Scheme of Startup Equity - Just like multi-level marketing schemes, in startups it pays to get in on the ground floor. Not everyone has the skillset and experience to be a founder, and many of those that do may not have the risk tolerance. But founding entrepreneurs typically own an order of magnitude more equity than early hires (who themselves will have disproportionate ownership relative to later hires).
3) Disrupt/Fix That Which is Broken - Obviously disruption and innovation go hand in hand with vision (#7 below). Nearly all founders though are seeking to fix a market or industry that’s broken, and occasionally create whole new industries in the process.
4) Force Multiplier - For some founders, their startup is the best construct for them to magnify whatever impact they might have had as an individual or as part of another organization. It’s possible to disrupt industries or touch millions of customers even within a big company… just look at Apple, Amazon, and others. But for any individual or small group of founders, the ability to multiply that impact by way of a new startup provides its own unique rewards.
5) That Inner Control Freak - Founders always have to balance their own perspective with that of their various constituents (employees, investors, customers, strategic partners, etc), and the best ones manage to do so in an even-handed manner. But for many being able to exert greater control over their own destiny is a compelling factor in deciding to become an entrepreneur.
6) The Time is Right - Sometimes this is external, i.e. waiting until fundamental technology or prevailing market forces make it possible for an entrepreneur to launch the startup that’s been germinating in their head for years. But more often it’s when the founders feel that the right set of personal circumstances exist (professional experience, developments in their private lives, etc), in conjunction with all the other reasons to become a founder.
7) A Vision That Keeps You & Your Co-Founders Up at Night - Most founders I see have a vision for their product or company that they simply can’t resist… their startup doesn’t just compel them to take the leap, it’s nearly irrepressible. People literally can’t sleep or experience dreams about their startup vision. Ironically once founders start building that vision, a whole other set of stuff starts to keep them up at night.