The best entrepreneurs are missionaries instead of mercenaries

jeff bezos

Of the many companies I have started – four of them venture-backed – and worked for, none of have been founded with just the goal of making money. Of course, making money is vitally important, but I’ve always believed that revenues and profits were byproducts of creating great products and that the reason to make money was to be able to invest in the company’s growth and to reward stakeholders: employees, investors, advisors, and yes, even founders.

I have long admired Jeff Bezos for his brilliant accomplishments with Amazon and have been a loyal customer since day one. As the Inc article by Scott Mautz Jeff Bezos Just Pinpointed What Makes the Best Entrepreneurs in 4 Brilliant Words says, Jeff Bezos says a lot of smart things. He writes plenty too, like thoughtful annual shareholder letters, nestling sharp nuggets within. Jeff’s yearly shareholders’ letters are recommended reading.

The gist of Scott’s  article is that the best entrepreneurs are on a mission, one that’s bigger than them and isn’t all about profits, power, fame or glory but about making a meaningful contribution to the world.

The recent Amazon investment in electric vehicle startup Rivian is a good example:

In the announcement of Amazon’s investment, Scaringer said Rivian’s mission is to bring “sustainable mobility” to the world and to “reset expectations of what’s possible”, including eliminating compromises electric cars make on performance, capability, and efficiency while setting a new bar in innovating the total customer experience.

Missionary over mercenary.

Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya is an exemplar of the mission-driven over money-driven philosophy:

You see, if you’re right with your people, community, and product, you’ll be more profitable, innovative, and you’ll have more passionate people working for you and a community that supports you.

All this is not to say that successful founder/CEOs like Jeff Bezos are not laser-focused, task-oriented, cold and calculating and ruthless, especially when it comes to crushing competitors. That’s necessary but not sufficient to be a truly great and impactful founder.

As founders we always developed two things before we wrote a line of code or tried to raise a dollar of investment: our vision and our mission, as I posted about previously.

Your vision is the purpose of your company and where you are going, you mission is how you plan to get there. Everyone involved with the company, from founders to staff, investors to advisors, must be aligned with both the vision and the mission to build a successful company. A compelling vision and mission will attract the best and brightest staff and investors, then it’s up to you to execute to bring that vision and mission to life.


Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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