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Thoughts from the UKIF Membership

Richard Atkinson

So why don’t entrepreneurs do the obvious and get rich?

Richard is Chief Executive of Second Mile Ltd and is an experienced technology entrepreneur who has led start-ups in the cleantech, automotive, communications, defence and software sectors. This week he continues his theme from two weeks ago.

Two weeks ago I dwelt briefly on the joys of teamwork before asking why so many entrepreneurs don’t avail themselves of the skills of their fellow man.  My answer to this puzzle – and to most apparent entrepreneurial dysfunction – is this:  It’s not about the money.  It never was.

What it really is about varies, but I believe that building capital is not, in these situations, the true aim.   The money is the fig leaf for an aim that can’t for one reason or another be pursued openly.

The life of ‘Company Man’ rarely allows the self-expression or autonomy most of us crave.  Entrepreneurship holds these out as tantalising lures.  But the truth is that it’s partly illusory.  Entrepreneurs still have to get things done through others.  They still have to compromise to enlist the energies of allies.  They still, in other words, have to bend to reality.  It’s not an escapist fantasy but an intensification of ordinary responsibilities.

It’s all too easy to be drawn to the siren call and, as the ancients found, the further in you’re drawn the harder it is to resist.  But the siren call leads to shipwreck, and the two I see most often result from these:

1) The desire for perfect autonomy (a fantasy of self-sufficiency)
2) The desire to show how clever and essential I am (a fantasy of uniqueness).

Try these in corporate life and you’re a deluded misfit.  Try them as an entrepreneur and you can be, for a time, a hero.

So my answer to why entrepreneurs don’t do the obvious and get rich is twofold.  One, they’re not in fact trying to get rich.  They’re trying to get something else that they can’t get by other routes.  Two, obvious is not easy.  Entrepreneurship often disciplines you harder than a job does to master your worse self and accept your limitations. 

By taking away the constraints, entrepreneurship can mask your regression just as it can spur you to progress.  Only the entrepreneur gets to decide; who could resist?


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