Creator or Maintainer? Why Entrepreneurs Leave the Businesses They Start

Entrepreneurs are puzzle solvers: they see a whole where others see pieces…they see opportunities where others see obstacles…they see gold where everyone else is just looking at hole in the ground.

It’s not just having a vision, although that’s certainly part of it. It’s more an innate need to create. coupled with the ability to pull various pieces together in a way that others often don’t understand, even after the fact. That’s painting the picture with a fairly broad stroke, of course, but it’s not something that would be argued by most people–up to and including entrepreneurs themselves.

But while entrepreneurs are fantastic creators, they often aren’t good maintainers. They may be able to build a successful company, but tend to be less skilled–or perhaps simply less interested–in actually running that company.

So why do so many entrepreneurs seem to lose interest with whatever it is they create? Part of it is based in the same qualities that makes them great entrepreneurs in the first place: that ability and drive to build something out of nothing. But creation itself is the reward: once that is accomplished, they often get bored and start itching for a new challenge.

Again, that is a generalization that doesn’t apply to everyone. Some entrepreneurs–Mark Zuckerberg comes to mind–run the company but continue to push the boundaries of innovation. But entrepreneurs as a rule don’t seem to be good at the day-to-day of treadmill of running a business. There are some fairly common reasons as to why this is–things that all entrepreneurs need to be aware of:

“Where do we grow from here?”

Starting a business and making it a success usually requires a perfect storm of conditions: opportunity, market timing, financing, and more all have to come together in order to make it work. Entrepreneurs are master of recognizing how these individual pieces can come together into something greater than the sum of the parts. The problem is, what next? The world at large is expecting another miracle, even bigger than the one before.

But it’s hard to keep capturing new lightning in the same bottle. Steve Jobs managed to do it, but it could be argued that his greatest successes–ipad, ipod, and such–weren’t his goals. They may’ve been significant leaps along the path to building a company now worth over a trillion dollars…but that was never really his end-game, either. He was ever looking beyond devices to how computers as a whole could seamlessly serve mankind. He never seemed to be trying to top his successes, because he hadn’t yet reached his ultimate goal.

Others have struggled trying to leapfrog their initial success. Amazon, for example, is America’s marketplace…so how does a company keep growing after that? The company’s most ambitious attempt has been Alexa. There are currently some 50 million Alexa-capable devices out there in the consumer market place–that sounds like a success story, right?

In terms of market saturation, yes; unfortunately, by most accounts, Amazon isn’t making much of a profit per device sold. And since it’s hard to image people trading in Echoes like they do smart phones every couple of years, Amazon considered the devices themselves a type of loss-leader to usher in the next new wave of retail: sales over voice-enabled devices.

According to a USA Today article a few months back, purchases made through Google Home, Amazon’s Echo, and the like are projected to leap from $2 billion to $40 billion by 2022.

To date, however, it’s been like a party where no one received their invitation: according to The Information–citing reliable accounts from Amazon insiders–only about 2% of the people with Amazon’s Alexa intelligent assistant have made a purchase with their voices so far in 2018. Of that 2%, roughly 90% didn’t try it again. That means that the percentage of owners who do any kind of ongoing voice shopping is considerably below 1% … statistically, it’s pretty much 0.

So in Round One, Jeff Bezos created a business that succeeded where no one saw a market; in Round Two, he saw a market that–as yet–doesn’t seem to exist. Oops.

“Don’t bother me with details!”

Entrepreneurs are drawn to doing that thing that others wouldn’t even consider: can we get the public to buy an electronic tablet even though so far it has no real application except playing solitaire? That’s the kind challenge entrepreneurs thrive on. It’s much more of a rush than dealing with the thousands of ongoing details that go into keeping a business going.

And that is just the normal stuff, when everything is going as planned. What about all the other “out of the blue” things that wreak havoc on a business? Things like natural disasters or new OSHA requirements or discovering your company is getting pounded by friendly fraud. For people who live for goal achievement, it’s like putting all your resources into treading water. Hard to see the appeal in that.

None of which is to say that entrepreneurs are right or wrong–only that there is a different mindset. This is something that all would-be business owners need to consider carefully before getting started: are you a creator or a maintainer? Either is fine, but being both is rare. Put your effort where your talent lies, and surround yourself with competent people for the rest.

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