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The Founder’s Dilemmas

Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls that Can Sink a Start-Up

By Noah Wasserman
16-minute read
Audio available
The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls that Can Sink a Start-Up by Noah Wasserman

The Founder’s Dilemmas (2013) reveals exactly what it takes to become the founder of a start-up company. Drawn from the author’s research and case studies, this step-by-step guide will help you navigate the rough waters of your company’s early stages.

  • Budding entrepreneurs ready to start a new business
  • Experienced business owners ready for a new challenge
  • Investors looking for advice on evaluating start-up companies

Noah Wasserman is a professor at Harvard Business School. He won the Academy of Management’s Innovation in Pedagogy award in 2010 for the course he taught based on The Founder’s Dilemmas. It was also named one of the top entrepreneurship courses in the country by Inc. Magazine in 2011.

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The Founder’s Dilemmas

Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls that Can Sink a Start-Up

By Noah Wasserman
  • Read in 16 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 10 key ideas
The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls that Can Sink a Start-Up by Noah Wasserman
Synopsis

The Founder’s Dilemmas (2013) reveals exactly what it takes to become the founder of a start-up company. Drawn from the author’s research and case studies, this step-by-step guide will help you navigate the rough waters of your company’s early stages.

Key idea 1 of 10

Entrepreneurs are motivated to strike out on their own to achieve power, influence and autonomy.

Different things motivate different people. For some it’s prestige, while for others, it’s financial gain or autonomy.

So what’s the difference between someone who wants a career and someone who wants to be an entrepreneur? While employees or career-oriented people find it challenging to give up a steady job and start a business, entrepreneurs find it hard to conform to desk life, and thrive on the risk and challenge of doing their own thing.

A difference of motivation is really what separates these two worlds. For career people, security, prestige, financial gain and affiliation are the top four motivations. For male entrepreneurs, financial gain and control – in the form of power, influence, autonomy and managing people – are what moves them.

Such motivations are expressed in interesting ways. The male founder of Blogger, Evan Williams, knew that his main motivations were power and autonomy. So much so that he turned down a buy-out offer worth millions of dollars, just so he could retain control of his company.

Similarly, the female founder of Sittercity, Genevieve Thiers, was working at IBM in her 20s when she realized she felt stifled, like a cog in a machine. Realizing that autonomy and influence were what she craved, she quit her job to start her own company.

Interestingly, the top motivations for female entrepreneurs are mostly the same as they are for male entrepreneurs: autonomy, power, influence, managing people and altruism. Note, though, the addition of altruism and the fact that financial gain has left the list. For female career people, in contrast, the top four motivations are recognition, affiliation, security and lifestyle.

The first step toward becoming a successful entrepreneur is looking at yourself and defining your motivations. Have you figured out whether you have an entrepreneurial character? If so, read on.

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